The city of Whitefish announced Tuesday morning that BNSF Railway is investigating an oil sheen “appearing on the Whitefish River near the BNSF Landing.”
As of about 10:20 a.m., the city reported that BNSF “is in the process of mobilizing equipment to do some investigation.” The state Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is also aware of the observed sheen and the BNSF emergency response, and has been in communication with BNSF. BNSF will provide a report to Montana DEQ about their response and preliminary investigation into the cause of the sheen, according to a DEQ spokesperson. DEQ may also require additional investigation prior to approving a cleanup plan to address the source of the contamination.
As a result of the investigation, the City of Whitefish announced closures to the bike and pedestrian path between Miles Avenue and Edgewood Place along the river and at the Roundhouse Landing River Access until further notice. The city is waiting for more information, Whitefish City Manager Dana Smith said Tuesday morning.
In a written statement issued shortly before 3 p.m. Tuesday, Lena Kent, the BNSF General Director of Public Affairs, said that on April 10 BNSF “discovered a small seep and sheen on the Whitefish River near the Whitefish rail yard and immediately reported it to the EPA and the Montana Department of Environmental Quality.”
Continuing, Kent wrote that BNSF was currently investigating the source of the sheen and a containment boom had been placed over the river as a precaution.
A section of the BNSF rail yard in Whitefish is already designated as a high-priority state Superfund site due to a legacy of soil and groundwater contamination. The 78-acre site has been a locomotive fueling and repair facility since 1903, and releases associated with fueling repair, railroad operations, and wastewater transportation to the lagoons have been identified as the causes of soil and groundwater contamination by petroleum products, polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and heavy metals.
In 2007, a petroleum sheen was detected along the Whitefish River, and an investigation by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) led to BNSF being ordered to clean the river along the rail yard.
From 2009 through 2013, cleanup crews dredged a 1.5-mile section of river, removing about 26,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment as part of the environmental remediation.
In the summer of 2019, another petroleum sheen was reported along the Whitefish River, near the BNSF rail yard and locomotive maintenance facility, and BNSF ultimately coordinated with the Montana DEQ and the EPA in clean-up efforts, which included soil excavation near Railway Street and Miles Avenue.
Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.
Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.