An eye on safety at Hauser refueling station

County proposing permit changes at BN, Santa Fe

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With the aim of heightening safety standards, Kootenai County is proposing several permit amendments for the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway refueling station in Hauser.

Required by the county commissioners after the station's compliance hearing last December, the amendments would specify when the facility shuts down for a major leak, plus establish new well testing and groundwater monitoring.

"There was dialogue and discussion during their (the commissioners') processing of the compliance review, and the board felt that these were matters that should be addressed," said Scott Clark, director of the county Building and Planning Department.

One change the county is proposing would require the $52 million facility to cease operations during a leak that compromises at least two of its three containment levels, or that involves rebuilding structures to address it.

Another amendment would call for creating a groundwater-monitoring plan approved by the Department of Environmental Quality.

All slant wells would also have to be maintained and tested annually, and be included in the groundwater monitoring.

A previously temporary condition to fund a staff position for the DEQ aquifer protection program would also become permanent.

Agencies or members of the public can also propose new or modified conditions at the scheduled examiner hearing.

Gus Malones, spokesman for the railway company based in Ft. Worth, Texas, released a single statement.

"BNSF is not requesting any permit changes," Malones said. "The conditional use permit (for the Hauser station) was reviewed in 2009, and all of the agencies who participated in the review determined that the facility was being operated in accordance with all the requirements of the conditional use permit, and that no new conditions were warranted."

Clark said that BNSF is free to dispute the proposed measures.

"At the examiner hearing level, any concerns can be raised by the conditional use permit holder that they wish to address," he said.

Commissioner Rick Currie said he and the other commissioners could not comment because of the pending hearing.

Terry Harris with Kootenai Environmental Alliance said he didn't know the details of the proposed amendments, but he approved the safety goals.

"Generally, it's the wrong type of facility in the wrong place, putting that amount of risk to the aquifer," Harris said. "I understand the commissioners gave conditional approval and required all this monitoring and reporting, and that is making the best of a bad situation."

The examiner hearing is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Dec. 2 in the Kootenai County Administration Building. After the official makes a recommendation, the county commissioners will hold a hearing and make a decision.

The commissioners voted unanimously last year at the station's 5-year compliance review that it met all the permit conditions.

The facility has experienced problems since it was built in 2004, including a leak that extended to the underlying aquifer months after its construction. The facility was also shut down by the DEQ in 2005 when diesel was discovered on a liner.

Since then, the railroad has relied on 24-hour computerized leak-detection monitoring, as well several containment liners to prevent repeat incidents.

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