The lead locomotive on a 113-car BNSF train derailed near Bonners Ferry, Idaho, south of Creston on Jan. 1, 2020. (Boundary County Emergency Management)

UPDATE: ‘Rapid response’ to diesel leak in Kootenay River after derailment south of Creston

Potential diesel in Kootenay River up to 7,200 litres; containment in place 45km south of border

The cause of the Jan. 1 Burlington Northern Santa Fe train derailment 16 kilometres east of Bonners Ferry, Idaho, has been identified as a rockslide, but officials are still uncertain how much diesel may have leaked into the Kootenay River.

“We haven’t determined exactly how much spilled from the fuel tank,” said Gus Melonas, BNSF public affairs director for B.C., Idaho, Oregon and Washington, told the Advance this morning.

He added that no sheen on the water could be seen, but BNSF and Boundary County emergency crews made a “rapid response” after the derailment, placing three containment booms downriver.

“Containment booms have been deployed to pre-planned locations near the county search and rescue building in Bonners Ferry and immediately upriver of the confluence of the Moyie and Kootenai Rivers,” said Boundary County public information officer Andrew O’Neel in a press release. “BNSF deployed a third containment boom just downriver from the lead locomotive as well. …

“BNSF is currently working with representatives from Idaho Department of Environmental Quality to determine the environmental impact and are searching the river for diesel fuel in order to contain and recover it, as diesel will generally float on the surface.”

The lead locomotive — one of three that derailed — was carrying 7,200 litres (1,900 gallons) of fuel, but officials will be unable to determine how much may have leaked into the river until it is brought back to dry land. The location, however, is difficult to access and a plan for removal has not yet been finalized. No fuel leaked from the other locomotives, which derailed, respectively, on the riverbank and alongside the tracks.

The incident was caused by a rockslide from a 45-metre cliff, which left a debris field three metres deep and 15 metres wide that still blocks the tracks.

Dan Dinning, Boundary County board of county commissioners chair, declared a local emergency due to the incident and also enacted an emergency order closing that stretch of river to all non-emergency boat traffic through Jan. 8.

The Kootenay River (Kootenai in the U.S.) flows north through Bonners Ferry, 43 km south of Creston, and into Kootenay Lake, eventually joining the Columbia River in Castlegar.

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