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BNSF to use divers to remove fuel from train engine in Kootenai River after rock slide

While the train track damaged by a rock slide on New Year’s Day re-opened Saturday, two engines are still in the Kootenai River about 10 miles east of Bonners Ferry.

The rock slide derailed three locomotives and six empty rail cars, sending several into the river. The locomotives then leaked an unknown amount of fuel into the river.

Bill Dunbar with the Environmental Protection Agency described the leak as “minor” as of Monday afternoon.

“It’s minor thus far but we still have 2,000 gallons-ish of diesel on that locomotive,” Dunbar said.

While the railroad re-opened at 1 p.m. Saturday, BNSF crews were still working on a plan to remove the engines from the water, said Gus Melonas, spokesman for the BNSF Railroad Co.

One engine came to rest in the river, while another is on the river bank.

The submerged engine has about 1,900 gallons of fuel inside it currently while the second already had the fuel removed, Dunbar said.

Divers began the process of removing fuel from the submerged locomotive, Monday.

The EPA placed thousands of feet of containment boom around the site.

“They’ve got over 6,000 feet of containment boom in the water that are in specific places protecting environmentally sensitive, areas, critical habitat, that sort of things,” said Andrew O’Neel, a spokesman for Boundary County Emergency Management.

While the amount of fuel already leaked is unknown, there’s “no danger at all to the general public,” and there are “certainly not flammable conditionals at all within the water,” Dunbar said.

The county told residents they should not use water directly from the river until the clean up operation is concluded.

“They’re doing water testing every 24 hours in five or six different places,” O’Neel said.

Boundary County Commissioners extended the state of emergency declaration that closed the river for recreational use last week through Feb. 8 which is the “furthest estimate” for when the containment booms will be removed, O’Neel said. The river is closed from Deep Creek Boat Launch to the Montana border.

While boating is closed, the local drinking water supply was not affected, O’Neel said.

BNSF does not know when the locomotives will be removed from the area.

“We want to work on a plan to protect everyone’s safety,” Melonas said. “Officials are on site and evaluating.”

Luckily, there aren’t a lot of people on the river this time of year, O’Neel said.

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