BNSF completes cleanup of soils in Whitefish River

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BNSF Railway last month completed excavation work in the Whitefish River to remove potentially contaminated soils.

The company has been doing work in the river since August and at the Whitefish Landing river access point following a petroleum sheen that was spotted in the river.

“Excavation of the remaining potentially impacted soil was completed without incident,” said Maia LaSalle with BNSF. “The excavation progressed in segments and was backfilled with clean soil as the work progressed from upriver to downriver.”

LaSalle recently provided the City of Whitefish with an update on its work in the river saying that no additional soil removal is expected.

In its update on Sept. 30, BNSF said the work that remains involves restoring the Whitefish Landing park, just west of the intersection of Miles Avenue and Railway Street. The railway owns the property, but a long-term lease with the city was established to maintain public access to the river.

“Over the next few weeks BNSF will finish site grading, placement of top soil and revegetation,” LaSalle said. “We surveyed plant locations prior to removal and we will replant in the same locations.”

BNSF says it’s using the same company, Forestoration, that previously completed the work at Whitefish Landing.

The Montana Department of Environmental Quality in July received a citizen complaint of a petroleum sheen in the river and work to investigate the issue mobilized the first week of August. The sheen was reportedly about 20 feet in length and about 15 feet off shore from the public access point.

A major cleanup of the Whitefish River was completed by BNSF in 2013 involving the excavation of petroleum-contaminated soils in the river. BNSF removed more than 26,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment and backfilled it on more than 1.5 miles of the river during the effort.

The BNSF rail yard is designated as a state superfund site with soil and groundwater contamination by petroleum products, chemicals and heavy metals. DEQ continues to conduct a risk assessment of the site that will ultimately determine future cleanup of the rail yard.

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