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Schweitzer hears about BNSF diesel cleanup


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Tim Leeds Havre Daily News [email protected]

Gov. Brian Schweitzer, in Havre Thursday for the funeral of his aunt Mary Brady, heard about Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway's efforts to clean up decades-worth of diesel spilled under Havre and about the latest drafts on remediation efforts the railroad has put together with the state Department of Environmental Quality. “We've pumped over 13 million gallons of groundwater and sent it to be treated,” Allen Stegman of BNSF's Fort Worth, Texas headquarters told Schweitzer. According to an update from DEQ on the recovery of diesel by BNSF, the company has recovered more than 185,000 gallons of diesel from under Havre between the start of recovery in 1989 and June 2008. The diesel was spilled and soaked into the ground, affecting groundwater under downtown Havre and in North Havre, over decades as first the Great Northern Railway then its successor Burlington Northern operated in Havre. Andrew Johnsen of BNSF's Fort Worth office said the work is being done voluntarily to clean up past practices. “The product we are remediating is from generations past ,” he said. “Our operations today are as clean as they can be.” Kate Frye, the DEQ official overseeing the remediation negotiations, explained about systems set in place along the tracks to catch any diesel that does overflow. A system of metal and concrete pans catch any spills, she said. “The track pans will catch it and contain it,” she said. Answering a question from the governor, Frye said that tests have not shown any diesel contamination in the Milk River. Tests had shown some contamination in sediment in Bullhook Creek, which is piped under the rail yards, but systems prevent any further contamination, she said. Stegman said the total cost to BNSF is hard to estimate at this point. It's in the $18 million to $20 million range, he said, and the 20- to 30-year future remediation effort would cost $4 million to $5 million more if the company simply continued with what it is doing now, he said. Stegman said BNSF is recovering 1,000 to 1,200 gallons of diesel a week now, although that will drop over the 30-years of remediation planned. At some point, the cost-effectiveness of its current procedures will drop significantly, he said. Schweitzer commented that new techniques to improve the effectiveness of recovery will probably arise. “The technology 30 years ahead will be better than today,” he said. “The technology today is certainly better than 30 years ago.”


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