Letter to the Editor

Diesel spill cleanup is a success story

Tuesday, December 9, 2003

Dear Editor,

I would like to point out several facts related to your editorial of Dec. 4 concerning the City of McCook's water supply and the diesel plume at BNSF's rail yard in McCook.

First, the McCook water supply issues are related to nitrate, arsenic and uranium contamination, not petroleum contamination.

This has been confirmed by the order issued to the city of McCook by the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality, which cites nitrate, arsenic and uranium as the problems in the water supply, not diesel. In fact, diesel fuel contamination has not entered the city's water supply or storage reservoir.

This was also confirmed through a detailed February 2003 investigation of the site by RDG Geoscience and Engineering, which was shared with the city. Any potential impact to the reservoir or the discharge line from a future rise in the groundwater table is highly improbable due to the nature of the operation of the discharge line.

BNSF has been working with the NDEQ to clean up the diesel plume. More importantly, BNSF has continued to clean up the site on a voluntary basis, even after the NDEQ indicated in a 1995 letter that "The department is not requiring the on-going remediation and the associated ground water monitoring at this site."

While BNSF had detected and reported some movement of the plume to both the NDEQ and the city, the latest data shows that the existing remediation system is causing the plume to shrink and is significantly reducing the thickness of the plume on the groundwater.

The latest expansion of the recovery system, which includes adding 14 more recovery wells and a soil vapor extraction component to all of the new and existing recovery wells, will effectively halt further migration of the plume and assure there is no future impact on the tank reservoir or nearby property owners.

BNSF also believes that several potential engineering solutions present more practical alternatives to relocation of the reservoir. We have presented those "solutions" to the city of McCook, at least one of which has generated additional discussions.

BNSF is willing to fund these proposed solutions at no cost to the city of McCook and has even offered to pay for an independent, nationally-recognized engineering firm to evaluate the proposals if the city believes that is necessary.

BNSF believes that the clean up of the diesel plume in McCook is an ongoing success story.

Unlike the tens of thousands of gas stations in the U.S., BNSF removed 99 percent of the underground storage tanks from its system several years ago and replaced them with fueling systems that have multiple levels of protection for the environment. In those locations, such as McCook and Mandan, where BNSF has found fuel plumes as a result of unknown leaks in those old systems, we did the right thing for the environment and the communities we serve by initiating cleanup efforts.

BNSF has taken proactive measures to contain, reduce, and recover the diesel plume. Further, we have investigated engineering solutions we believe will remove the "vulnerable" status of the system. I am confident that BNSF, the city of McCook, the Nebraska Department of Health and the NDEQ can work together to identify and approve a practical solution that is fully protective of human health, the environment, and the city's drinking water supply in the tank reservoir.

Boyd Andrew

General Manager,

Nebraska Division

Burlington Northern Santa Fe

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