As soon as Washington Water Power Co. contemplated putting a 5-million-gallon diesel storage tank on Rathdrum Prairie in 1993, it notified the Panhandle Health District.
So where’s Burlington Northern Railroad with its plans for a locomotive refueling station and two 900,000-gallon diesel storage tanks at Hauser, Idaho?
The company isn’t saying.
It’s not the sort of introduction that’s encouraging to the people who try to keep the Spokane-Rathdrum Prairie aquifer - the area’s primary source of drinking water - from getting contaminated.
“Two years before they turned a shovel of dirt, Washington Water Power was working with us,” said Dick Martindale of the health district.
The Idaho Public Utilities Commission prevented WWP from building the tank as a source of backup fuel for its Rathdrum natural gas turbine. Still, “they (WWP) were superb.”
To date, Panhandle Health District has had one substantive conversation with a consultant for Burlington Northern. The railroad is not explaining why the health district has been left out of the loop.
Gov. Phil Batt has been briefed on the proposal, as has the Idaho Division of Environmental Quality, the Kootenai County commissioners and North Idaho legislators.
“It’s a little disappointing,” Martindale said, “but we haven’t pushed the panic button yet.”
Before Burlington Northern can build the refueling facility, it has to show how it would prevent fuel from getting into the aquifer if one of the tanks leaks. That includes putting impermeable liners under the tanks which would handle all 1.8 million gallons plus 10 percent additional fuel.
The railroad also will have to have preventive measures in place when unloading diesel into the storage tanks and when filling up the locomotives. And it will have to come up with a plan for disposing of any wastewater, including rainwater and snowmelt that pick up petroleum at the site.
If push comes to shove, Panhandle Health District officials will go out and find Burlington Northern officials “and tell them these are the regulations, (and) we need to see the plans,” Martindale said.
But that’s not the district’s preferred option. The agency wants to get involved early, it says, so expensive changes aren’t necessary to protect the aquifer.
Batt is promising “strict environmental compliance,” said his spokesman, Frank Lockwood.
“The governor believes this is a situation where you can have the good jobs and protect the environment at the same time,” Lockwood said. “Everybody wins.”
Burlington Northern will not say when it will make a decision on moving the Spokane Valley refueling operation to the Hauser switching yard. In fact, the company paints the proposal as barely even at the idea stage.
But several state officials say they have seen conceptual drawings that show the new fuel tanks, the containment system for fuel spills and how the fuel would be delivered.
The railroad also supposedly is considering trying to tap into a Rathdrum sewage collection line that is located a half-mile from the site.
Burlington Northern has been talking about moving its Spokane Valley operation since at least May, state and county officials say. The Spokane Valley refueling depot handles about 20 locomotives a day.
Also located above the aquifer, it has one 300,000-gallon diesel storage tank and two lubricating oil tanks that hold 47,000 gallons. It was built before secondary spill containment was required.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo
MEMO: Cut in the Spokane edition.