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EPA, BNSF to begin removal of contaminated sediments from the Whitefish River

Release Date: 09/16/2009
Contact Information: Jennifer Chergo, 303 312-6601

(Denver, Colo. – September 16, 2009) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is ordering the removal of contaminated sediments from sections of the Whitefish River in northwestern Montana beginning in late September. The Whitefish River flows from Whitefish Lake through the town of Whitefish, in Flathead County. Sediments in certain areas of the river are contaminated with petroleum products, causing a visible sheen on the river when disturbed.

In 2007, a citizen contacted EPA to report an oily sheen on the river in multiple locations. Subsequently, EPA investigated the site and found the presence of petroleum consisting of bunker fuel oil and weathered diesel fuel. The river is not a drinking water source for the town, but is used for recreational activities.

The known contamination appears to originate from the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) fueling facility, which is located upstream from the town, adjacent to the river. Areas of contaminated sediments continue along the river for about two miles as the river flows through the town of Whitefish. BNSF will investigate, conduct and pay to clean up contamination that is attributable to them, with EPA oversight.

On September 25, 2009, BNSF will begin cleaning up contaminated areas along the upper reach of the river, above the Second Street Bridge, north to the BNSF facility, adjacent to the river. Also at this time, EPA and BNSF will investigate the recovery trench system on BNSF property to evaluate whether the trench is effectively preventing oil from entering the river. In 2010, BNSF will begin to remove impacted sediments in the lower reach of the river, downstream of Second Street Bridge, for approximately two miles. EPA will also investigate additional potential petroleum sources on BNSF property at that time.

EPA will keep the community informed and will work closely with other federal agencies, the Montana Department of Environmental Quality, the City of Whitefish, and other local stakeholders throughout the course of this action. Sections of the pedestrian/bike trail along the river will likely be closed periodically during the course of this cleanup.

EPA is planning to host a public meeting about this action on Tuesday, September 29, 2009, at 6:30 p.m. at the Whitefish (Golden Agers) Community Center at 121 2nd Street.