On Friday August 15, we published the first installment of the continuing saga of the communications snafus with BNSF’s rail crossing upgrades. The work is part of a $54 million project funded by the Wash. Dep't of Transportation, ostensibly to upgrade the coastal rail line for faster passenger trains. That article describes residents stranded without egress, the Sheriff frustrated with BNSF’s refusal to communicate with him, a fire chief’s efforts to provide standby emergency vehicles, and no notice to residents or emergency responders when work is cancelled. This story picks up where that one left off.
Last Friday, some time after my first article appeared about BNSF and the road closures, one of their crews dumped a train carload of gravel around Klipsun Road, off Chuckanut Drive, in such a way that some of it obliterated a resident’s trail, but much of it landed in a stormwater ditch feeding into the Bay. Some found its way into a small boat docked there according to residents’ email reports.
Lee First, the Pollution Prevention Specialist for the North Sound Baykeeper Team at RE Sources responded Monday the 18th after notification by a resident, to gather information and take pictures.
“What I noticed first was that the engine used to pull the [gravel gondolas] was sitting there idling, and those tracks are right by homes, so those diesel emissions were just pouring onto residents’ decks,” First told me in a phone interview today.
According to a resident with whom I spoke, the engine sat idling near homes for most of the day Monday.
First filed an Environmental Incident Report (ERT) with the state Dep’t of Ecology later in the day Monday, reporting a spill at least 50’ long.
Ecology’s Kurt Baumgarten, a Water Quality Inspector, contacted First today, she said, concerned with whether the gravel was dirty and polluting the Bay. He told First he will investigate that, and whether BNSF was required to have a section 404 permit and, if so, whether they had obtained one. Such a permit, issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers under the federal Clean Water Act, is generally required for wetlands fill, which BNSF is doing, whether inadvertently or not.
Apparently, BNSF just likes dumping things into water. In February, King 5 News reported on creosote leaching into salmon-bearing streams near Van Zandt. That time, BNSF crews had dumped thousands of freshly-treated replacement ties for the farmland rail line beside the tracks, without consideration of the fact that many were rolling into streams which feed into the Nooksack River (see photo, below).
Ken Kaliher, a Chuckanut area resident, laments that if this is how BNSF operates when they should be wooing us, before the county makes a final determination about whether to grant permits for the Gateway Pacific Terminal, how will they operate if they have their permits when they need to build longer sidings to accommodate the increased rail traffic?
Ken is correct to worry. As reported in February, BNSF is responsible for 17 total toxic sites awaiting cleanup around the state, of which 3 are ranked as the highest priority by the Dep't of Ecology (in Auburn, Shelton, and Kelso).
Since publication of the first article about the Cove Road/Yacht Club Road construction, an area resident there was able to get a name of a BNSF contact with responsibility for the current projects on the coastal route. Given that representatives for both WSDOT and BNSF refused to share that information with me for my first story, I am only too happy to publish that information here:
Project Name: NW Area Construction
BNSF Project Engineer: Zach Dombrow
Address: 2454 Occidental Ave. South, Seattle, WA 98134
Unfortunately, the saga continues for the Chuckanut area residents who are stranded in their neighborhoods when construction occurs at intersections with the railroad right-of-way. The good news is that for the first time, BNSF or some subcontractor is sending advisories to local press about future road closures. The bad news is that there are advisories, because the same residents who have been dealing with inconvenience for weeks are the ones currently impacted.
In the advisory published Aug. 18, BNSF announced they would close access to Yacht Club Road, also cutting off access to Chuckanut Shore Road, Tuesday, Aug. 19, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Wednesday, Aug. 20, from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.; and Thursday, Aug. 21, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. [sic].
On the 19th, the Herald published an announcement that BNSF will close Cove Road, also blocking access to Wildcat Cove boat launch and Pleasant Bay Road, Thursday, Aug. 21, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. [sic again].