Excavation Work Continues Along Whitefish River After Discovery of Oil Sheen

After initial cleanup last month, BNSF decided more work needed to be done

By Justin Franz

Excavators are again working along the Whitefish River trying to clean up a petroleum contamination that was discovered earlier this summer.

BNSF Railway is completing the work in coordination with the Montana Department of Environmental Quality and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Earlier this summer, a sheen was reported along the Whitefish River, not far from BNSF’s rail yard and locomotive maintenance facility. The railroad excavated some soil in August in hopes of resolving the issue but recently determined additional work was needed along the shore. The work is primarily happening at the river access near Railway Street and Miles Avenue.

In order to excavate more soil along the shore, crews are constructing a bladder dam in the river. Officials said the dam would allow for a “more thorough cleanup.” The bladder dam was expected to be installed on Sept. 18 and excavation work on the shore would begin the following day.

Railroad officials said they would be working closely with the City of Whitefish to restore the shore to its original appearance.

Between 2009 and 2013, BNSF removed 26,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment along about 1.5 miles of river as part of an extensive environmental cleanup.

The work along the river was only a part of BNSF and DEQ efforts in Whitefish. A large section of the century-old rail yard is designated a state superfund site, and DEQ is currently conducting a risk assessment of the contamination beneath the yard that will help guide a future cleanup. DEQ officials hope to have the risk assessment done by 2020.