Pollution Concerns Prompt Proposal To Ban New Groundwater Wells Near Somers

Oct 16, 2018

A proposal to ban new groundwater wells on the north end of Flathead Lake due to pollution concerns is moving forward.

The Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation held a hearing Tuesday on a proposal to expand a ban on new groundwater wells on two additional properties near the former Somers Tie Plant.

The plant treated railway ties with creosote and other chemicals for several decades before being recommended as a Superfund site in the mid-1980s.The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency later withdrew the Superfund recommendation.

Last Wednesday we reported that groundwater in the area is migrating at a rate of a couple feet each year, but incorrectly said a plume of contamination is also moving.

Yueh Chuang is a manager of environmental remediation for BNSF Railway, which now owns the former tie plant.

"The plume is stable because at the edges, microorganisms can actually degrade the compounds."

BNSF monitors groundwater movement and contamination through a series of wells. The proposal to expand the ban on new or altered groundwater wells is based on well monitoring data collected since the controlled groundwater area was established in 2003. No one objected to expanding it at Tuesday’s hearing.

This April, the company improved erosion protections along the north shoreline of Flathead Lake to shield a swamp pond from scouring. The swamp pond was used as a waste repository when the tie plant was active. All but a residual amount of waste was removed in two rounds of excavations in 1985 and 1993.

Plans to begin the erosion control work coincided with the discovery of a mysterious sheen in May 2017. BNSF and the EPA later determined the sheen to be organic. BNSF removed it as a precaution.