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bnsf train stockimage

A BNSF train in the Missoula rail yard in 2016.

The Montana Department of Environmental Quality is taking public comments on a proposal that would modify BNSF Railway's operations at a property in Paradise.

The facility in question treated railway ties from 1908 until 1982. During that time, BNSF stored creosote, a tar-derived chemical used in the treatment process, in two surface impoundments. 

BNSF proposes changing a process used to extract creosote from the site, and shortening the entire site's post-closure care period to 2024. The current post-closure period is slated to continue until 2039, but BNSF cites an extensive history of groundwater data at the site.

From 1997 until last year, the railway operated a product recovery system that extracted creosote from the impoundments for reuse at a facility in Somers, on the north end of Flathead Lake.

It extracted the creosote through wells and piped it to a building on-site. There, the chemical was separated from groundwater (which was treated and discharged) and stored in tanks for later use. According to the permit application, nearby groundwater showed signs of contamination, but the “plume” of contaminants does not show signs of expanding or migrating, and the Clark Fork River remains unaffected.

In its permit application, citing changing conditions in the product recovery system, the company proposes to close down the building where separation occurred, as well as the on-site storage tanks. It will instead extract creosote from those wells using air pumps.

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“The product recovery wells will continue to operate and creosote will be pumped from the sumps in those wells to a portable tank and transferred to 55-gallon steel drums,” the permit application states.

The permit application projects that this system will be just as effective at recovering creosote, without also extracting groundwater, and that removing the pipes and the building where separation occurred will make the site less vulnerable to flooding and other extreme weather.

The nine recovery wells currently in operation will be shut down as the creosote thicknesses in each one’s sump reaches 6 inches. BNSF expects extraction there to continue for 10 more years.

The application is available for public comment through July 16 at http://deq.mt.gov/Public/publiccomment. In addition, a public meeting will be held on Wednesday, 2019 at 6 p.m. at the Paradise Civic Center at 2 School House Hill Road.

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