By Ron VandenBoom
Residents and business owners concerned about diesel contamination in and around the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Fueling (BNSF) Facility in Havre will be happy to learn that one more hurdle is near to being cleared in the ongoing cleanup saga that began in 1989. But it's not time yet to scream with joy as years of study may still lie ahead.
The Montana DEQ (Department of Environmental Quality) announced Monday that it has released three volumes of the Draft Remedial Investigation (RI) report on cleanup of the state Superfund site in Havre and the volumes will be available for public inspection at the Havre-Hill County Library and at the office of Hill County Sanitarian Clay Vincent by the first of next week.
The three-volumes, each about five inches thick, include information collected during field investigations conducted by the BNSF and reviewed by the DEQ over the last 12 years. It includes a DEQ review and comment of the Draft RI report, BNSF revisions to the Drift RI report in response to DEQ's comments, and resubmittal of the Final Draft RI report.
"The purpose of the report is to establish the nature and extent of contamination," said Doug Martin, project officer for the DEQ.
The report is one step in a process that will at last finalize DEQ's and BNSF's view of the extent and degree of contamination at the Havre site.
Martin said there will be a public comment period of 60 days scheduled with at least one public meeting included. During that time the public can voice their concerns about the findings in the report either in written form or at the public meeting.
The concerns will be reviewed for inclusion into the final report, Martin said.
No date has been set for the start of the public comment period, Martin said, adding that the final Draft RI still needs a little proofing.
"But as soon as possible it will be set and the Havre Daily News will be notified," he said.
The findings in the report include a summary of ongoing investigations and testing that has been conducted in North Havre, on railroad property, and on the south side of railroad property along First Street and between Second Avenue and Fifth Avenue.
Martin cautioned that while the RI will include everything the DEQ and BNSF has learned about the Havre site up to now, sites like Havre are "dynamic" or always changing.
"If we learn something new has happened after the RI is issued, we can still deal with that by adding an addendum to it," he said.
Once the RI report is finalized, Martin said, work will begin on a feasibility study that will look at alternatives to cleanup.
Martin said the feasibility study will consider all aspects of cleanup including practicality, cost, danger to human health and environment, long term effectiveness, use of treatment and resource effectiveness.
Martin would not speculate about how long it might take to complete the RI process and the feasibility study saying only that it is part of the nature of Superfund sites that a lot of lawyers become involved and issues involving the state of Montana are also having to be considered.
Martin went on to defend the length of time the process is taking explaining that from a business perspective, it is generally cheaper to work on cleaning up something like this today than it is to wait until next year.
"If we can get it cleaned up in 10 years," he said, "it will cost less money than if we drag it out for 50 years."
The DEQ, during 2000, collected 10 water samples from four wells located in the North Havre residential area. According to DEQ, no diesel range organic (DROs) were found in the ground water greater than .5 ppm (parts per million). April 1998 was the last time a residential water sample from North Havre exceeded 1.0 ppm.
One BNSF well, HV-76, in June, 1998, also detected DROs at 1.1 ppm.
BNSF and the DEQ continue to monitor well samples on a quarterly basis and product recovery wells continue pumping diesel from the ground. As of December, 2000, 174,366 gallons of diesel fuel have been recovered by BNSF and shipped off-site for recycling.
Estimates given by Martin at a public meeting in 1998 claim that there could be anywhere from 500,000 1.5 million gallons of fuel within the contaminated area.
BNSF since 1989 has also upgraded their fueling system to prevent future spills from occurring and provided Hazmat equipment and teams for recovery of spilled fuel and other hazardous chemicals. An interceptor trench was also dug on the north side of railroad property to trap product and prevent further encroachment into North Havre.