BNSF Railway fined for treated railroad ties in water

Washington State Department of Ecology has fined BNSF Railway $86,000 for placing creosote-treated railroad ties and other materials from maintenance projects in Whatcom and Skagit county water bodies.

The department’s water quality program manager Heather Bartlett said Tuesday, Aug. 11, that BNSF has repeatedly disregarded water quality protection at projects near waterways.

The penalty, dated Monday, Aug. 10, covers four projects.

In 2013, BSNF left debris in and near the water at Chuckanut Bay. In 2014 and early 2015, BSNF placed railroad ties in ditches, wetlands or flood zones in Van Zandt, Burlington and Bellingham. The ties had been set aside temporarily prior to installation.

Crews were briefed on how to properly handle and store materials, BNSF spokesman Gus Melonas said.

“We’re committed to protect the environment and make sure the waterways are not affected,” Melonas said. A decision on whether to appeal the fine is “under review,” he said.

Officials say creosote is toxic to aquatic life. Washington has invested millions of dollars removing creosote-treated wood from waterways. Sediment can damage habitat and smother fish spawning areas.

Ecology cited BNSF for failing to employ industry-standard pollution prevention practices, despite warnings and technical assistance.

Reporter Ralph Schwartz contributed to this story.