By Ron VandenBoom
Several people walked out of the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) public meeting last night in obvious disgust over what they felt were unsatisfactory answers to their concerns about health and contamination risks in North Havre.
The DEQ held the public meeting to present a review of the Final Draft Remedial Investigation (RI) Report prepared by the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad and the DEQ and answer questions about the report.
The meeting's purpose, however, did not prevent individual property owners from asking why their water all of a sudden turned dark and had a film on top or how long it was going to be before diesel fuel contaminated the foundation of an individual's home.
Despite DEQ Project Manager, Doug Martin's attempt to explain what might be the cause or potential risk, the answers were not accepted gracefully.
One woman complained that she became sick when her water turned dark and a film appeared to float on the surface. She also said her dog became sick after drinking the water.
"I don't like it when people blow smoke," one woman said, after Martin offered a possible explanation. "And you're blowing smoke."
Another North Havre resident left the meeting after Martin could not tell him how long it would be before diesel found 25 feet from his front door would migrate to his foundation.
Most people, however, addressed their questions and comments to the Draft RI Report and the findings of the DEQ.
Martin started the meeting by explaining that there were three Recovery areas in which diesel or other compounds had been determined to exist. Recovery area one northwest of Gary and Leo's IGA, Recovery area two around the BNSF Annex Building and along first street between third Avenue and Fourth Avenue and Recovery area three around the BNSF Diesel Shop and the Bullhook and North Havre area.
Recovery Area Three is the largest area of contamination.
Martin also told the crowd that the latest figures obtained from three separate sources, estimate between 545,000 and 666,000 gallons of diesel remain in the ground on and around the BNSF facility.
Martin also listed the various compounds that have been tested for at the Havre site including diesel, benzine and toluene to name just a few. He also explained how the tests were conducted and what has been done so far to remove the contaminants from the soil and prevent the contamination from spreading.
Explanations were also given about the wells BNSF has placed on the property and what procedures are used to monitor the wells for contamination.
Martin confirmed that contamination had been found in three basements in buildings on the north side of First Street between Third and Fourth Avenues, but noted that all levels were below what is called tier one or mandatory cleanup levels.
One member of the audience asked who is responsible for notifying property owners if contamination is likely on their property. The surprise response from DEQ attorneys was "nobody."
The responsible contaminator has no legal obligation to notify the property owner the lawyer told the crowd, adding that the only legal responsibility incumbent upon the contaminator is to notify the DEQ.
Asked whether the DEQ was obligated to notify the property owner, the surprising answer was "no."
The DEQ lawyer said that the DEQ does and will normally notify the property owner but there is no legal obligation requiring notification.
Martin was also asked whether all old or current migration routes for contaminants, particularly routes following old or current sewer and utility lines, had been mapped and tested.
"For the most part, yes" Martin said. "As far as I know."
Following the answer, Martin did ask that anyone who might know about old utility routes in the area that might not have been tested to notify him.
Asked about the possibility that contamination might find its way into current water supplies via underground utilities, Martin said "no." He informed the crowd that he had been contacted when construction on the new water line route was being considered in the area of West First Street and he concluded there was no risk.
The next phase of the BNSF State Superfund Site will be the creation of a Risk Assessment and Work Plan by the BNSF that Martin speculated should be completed within the next six months.
"Within the next six months a lot of things can be happening here," Martin said.
The three volume RI will remain available for public inspection at the Havre/Hill County Library and the DEQ will continue to accept written or electronic comments for inclusion in the RI until June 15 at 5 p.m.
Comments should be sent to Doug Martin, DEQ project manager, P.O. Box 200901, Helena, Mt. 59620-0901.
Electronic messages or e-mails should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Anyone with questions can call Martin at 444-5975.