Whitefish River Diesel Removal Action
Updated February 2013
This year will be the fifth year and final phase of the Whitefish River Diesel Sheen Removal Action. During this final phase, the river will likely remain open around the work zone, but the pedestrian path will be required to be closed again between Miles Avenue and the Trestle Bridge.
Beginning in April, crews will be assessing potentially contaminated sediments from just below the 2nd Street Bridge to Baker Avenue along both sides of the river. While assessment and cleanup of contaminated sediments along this reach has already been completed as part of this removal action, it only focused on the sediments in the public domain, below the low-water mark. Last year, it came to the EPA’s attention that there were potentially contaminated soils higher up the bank, between the low- and high-water marks. As a result, crews will investigate these sediments to determine areas that create significant sheen when disturbed. Crews will be focused on the sediments above Baker Avenue, because this has been the area where the bulk of the oil pooled and collected. Wherever the assessment shows that sediments are causing significant sheen, those sediments will be excavated and removed.
The EPA is overseeing a removal action in Whitefish, Montana to address fuel contamination in the sediments of the Whitefish River. The basis for this action stems from reports of sheen on the Whitefish River in multiple locations. In 2009, the EPA and Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway (BNSF) entered into an order under section 311 (c) of the Clean Water Act (CWA), 33 U.S. C. §1321 to address the contaminated sediments. The 24-mile-long Whitefish River begins at Whitefish Lake and runs through the town of Whitefish, in Flathead County. Sediments in some areas along the Whitefish River for approximately one mile from the BNSF facility to about Spokane Avenue contain petroleum products, namely diesel fuel and heavier oils. Investigations indicate that the petroleum is due to past releases from the BNSF facility, which is located adjacent to the river. River water deposited the petroleum fuel products into sediments along the way.
The primary contaminants of concern are petroleum fuel products, namely bunker fuel oil and diesel fuel. Exposure to petroleum-containing sediments could pose a risk to human health and the environment.
With EPA oversight, BNSF began removing contaminated sediments from the Whitefish River in 2009. Phase I lasted from September 2009 to January 2010 and focused on the removal of petroleum-containing sediments adjacent to the BNSF facility. Phase II was conducted from July 2010 through January 2011 in a small area above the BNSF property and also below the BNSF property to the 2nd Street bridge. Both Phase I and II involved removing petroleum-containing sediments by first draining sections of the river using portable dams and pipes.
To address the approximately one-mile stretch of river from the 2nd St. Bridge down to Spokane Ave., BNSF began using a different cleanup technique. From July 2011 through fall 2012, BNSF used a floating hydraulic dredge. A hydraulic dredge is essentially a river barge with machinery fitted to vacuum the sediment from the river bottom without draining a section of river. The petroleum-containing sediments were removed and slurried upriver through a pipe to the BNSF property. BNSF selected this technique to be less impactful and to minimize disturbance to the riverbank as the work moved downstream toward more populated areas along the river.
Throughout all phases of this removal action, contaminated sediments were transported to the BNSF facility where they were drained in specially constructed cells and disposed of via railcar at a certified landfill. Wherever sediments were removed, the riverbed was regraded to approximate pre-removal shape and slope and river rock was used as fill.
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Fact Sheet: Whitefish River Diesel Sheen Removal Action, July 2011 (2 pp, 75K)
Office of Communication and Public Involvement
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region 8
1595 Wynkoop Street (8OC)
Denver, CO 80202-1129
800-227-8917, ext. 312-6601 (toll free Region 8 only)
2008 Waterbody Report for Whitefish River, EPA Watershed Assessment, Tracking & Environmental Results