A proposed railroad refueling depot elicited concerns Wednesday evening about ground-water contamination, fires, noise pollution and property devaluation.
Those worries and other concerns about everything from jobs to bullets puncturing fuel tanks came up as Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad officials explained their project to about 50 people at Lakeland High School.
The railroad’s lack of concern about the noxious weeds it spreads “leads me to believe you won’t be a very good corporate neighbor with the tank farm,” said one man, who identified himself as living closer to the proposed train service station than anyone else.
Burlington Northern officials immediately offered to investigate the weed problem.
And despite engineers talking at length about triple leak protection, leak detectors and regular inspections, some skepticism pervaded the crowd.
“What happens if it all fails and gets down into the aquifer?” asked Jim Ferguson of Rathdrum. Does the railroad have to post a performance bond to ensure it cleans up the aquifer?
No bond is required, railroad officials replied. And “there’s only so much you can do if everything goes wrong,” the Burlington Northern’s environmental expert said. But if there are problems, the company will clean them up, she said.
The railroad plans to expand its current operation near Hauser to refuel trains from Montana, Chicago-Minneapolis, Seattle and Portland. There will be two 950,000 gallon fuel tanks, with possible construction of a third tank in the future. The terminal will handle about 25 trains every 24 hours, dispensing about 5 million gallons of diesel fuel a month.
The railroad expects to have as many as 75 employees, earning an average of $40,000 a year, staffing the operation. Train crews will start staying in local motels and eating in local restaurants.
Burlington Northern expects to apply for permits in about six weeks and open the depot in mid-1999, said Parker Adeleman, railroad facilities manager.
The meeting is the most forthcoming Burlington Northern has been about the project, under way for at least five months. Although railroad officials met privately with Gov. Phil Batt and state and local officials in June, the company publicly has been close-mouthed about the refueling plant.
Railroad officials said they didn’t hold the meeting sooner because they weren’t sure what environmental regulations they would face and therefore weren’t sure how they would construct the operation.
Noise was as persistent a complaint as pollution. “A recent concussion nearly knocked us off of our chairs,” said Sue Miller of Rathdrum.
The question of spills brought references to the Exxon Valdez and worries about the economic effects if the Rathdrum Prairie aquifer is seriously contaminated. Burlington Northern assured the group that it was doing everything possible to prevent a catastrophe.
A man who said he worked on pipelines around the world carefully questioned the railroad about its construction methods and materials. He also queried how safe the top of the tanks are from bullet punctures.
“You’re in Idaho, you know,” he added.
One woman, whose house looks out on where the rail yard will be expanded, said this severely wounds her property values. “No one will want to buy our house if we choose to leave,” she said.