MISSOULA — The public comment period for a Montana plan to clean a polluted 42-acre (17 hectare) area just north of downtown Missoula is set to expire on May 2.
The Montana Department of Environmental Quality had proposed a plan to clean the area to standards that would allow future industrial uses, the Missoulian reported on Thursday.
Montana housing advocates and some elected officials have pushed hard for the state to clean it to residential standards.
Missoula’s Downtown Master Plan, which took input from more than 3,000 people and was adopted by the City Council in 2019, called for high-density residential housing and neighborhood businesses in the area, the outlet reported.
The Burlington Northern Missoula Facility consists of an active rail yard that is owned by Burlington Northern Inc. and used by Montana Rail Link. Industrial liquids like diesel fuel and oil have been spilled at the area for decades.
Groundwater and soil sampling has discovered compounds hazardous to humans, such as cancer-causing benzene and arsenic.
The Burlington Northern Missoula Facility has operated as a rail yard since the 1880s, said Kevin Stone, a public information specialist with the Montana Department of Environmental Quality.
“Over time, spills and leaks from fueling activities, maintenance, lubrication activities, and underground storage tank leaks have resulted in contamination of soils and groundwater with petroleum hydrocarbons, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), and metals,” Stone said.
The state environmental quality department said the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad would be responsible for the cost of the cleanup.
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