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Inspections secure at BNSF depot

by Alecia Warren
| February 18, 2013 8:00 PM

COEUR d'ALENE - Inspections will continue as usual at the train refueling depot in Hauser, even after a conditional agreement for the facility sunsets.

Kootenai County commissioners recently met with Idaho Department of Environmental Quality officials in the commissioners' chambers, to discuss future oversight of the BNSF Railway depot.

The DEQ's 10-year agreement with BNSF for the depot - detailing aquifer protection activities and public outreach - is in its last year, confirmed Dan Redline, DEQ regional administrator.

The agency wanted to hammer out any necessary agreements with the county to ensure monitoring activities continue smoothly, he said.

"This helps us figure out what we need to do," Redline said.

There are already myriad safety conditions in place for the 500,000-gallon diesel refueling station sitting over the Rathdrum-Prairie aquifer, the area's primary source of drinking water.

The county's conditional use permit for the facility, issued in 2000, contained 33 operating conditions ensuring inspections and protection of water quality.

A five-year county permit review led to additional conditions, like procedures for fuel leaks.

The county further required BNSF to provide DEQ with $100,000 a year for aquifer protection staffing, for as long as the facility operates under the permit.

Currently, the DEQ bills the railway roughly $100,000 a year to fund the work of employees who monitor the aquifer and the depot, said Geoff Harvey, DEQ waste and remediation manager.

Once the 10-year agreement ends, Harvey said, the railway will continue that funding, but will provide it through the county.

"That's what we're working out," he said of just how that change will work.

The DEQ's 10-year agreement with BNSF simply expanded on depot inspection and compliance, Redline said, as well as aquifer protection activities and public education.

The agency officials agreed to create a work plan of its monitoring and outreach for the depot.

They will present that to the commissioners this summer, to plan how to proceed with the BNSF funding.

Harvey told the commissioners that the DEQ still conducts monthly inspections of the refueling facility, and has no plans to reduce that.

"We need to go out monthly," he said.

But seeing as the depot hasn't had any issues in several years, the commissioners agreed the DEQ should only provide the county with an annual report on the facility, instead of the current quarterly reports.

The DEQ will still notify the commissioners immediately of emergencies or anomalies at the facility.

"We just don't want to be surprised by anything," said Commissioner Todd Tondee. "This is a very high profile site."

The depot has had two incidents since opening in 2004. In December of 2004, petroleum was released due to a crushed wastewater line. Underground protective liners also failed in 2005, which followed with BNSF's $10 million investment in improving the barriers.

Harvey assured that operations at the depot are stabilized now.

"Since the 2004, 2005 excursions, it has been running in tip-top shape," he said.

The county won't review the facility's permit again, the commissioners said.

When they pursued new permit conditions after the last review, BNSF challenged their authority to do so with litigation.

"They don't want to come back every 5 or 10 years at the whims of a new board," said Commissioner Dan Green.

He's comfortable with that, he said.

It's the DEQ that is and should be monitoring the depot's operations, he said.

"We want to make sure you continue to be staffed, to monitor the facility in perpetuity," he told the state officials.