Business News

BNSF Railway will pay a $75,000 fine and improve environmental protections during track maintenance work in Skagit and Whatcom counties under an agreement with the state Department of Ecology to settle a 2015 penalty for water quality violations.

Ecology originally cited BNSF for four water quality violations after they placed creosote-treated railroad ties and other materials in nearby water during maintenance projects in Whatcom and Skagit counties.

Ecology reduced the penalty amount from $86,000 to $75,000 with BNSF’s agreement to take specific steps to prevent water pollution when replacing wooden railroad ties.

“The long-term environmental benefit that will come from this agreement is significant,” said Heather Bartlett, water quality program manager at Ecology. “This sets a platform for future conversations, and we look forward to continuing our work with BNSF to protect water quality and the environment.”

As part of the settlement, BNSF agrees to:

  • Work with wood suppliers to obtain seasoned ties, or ties free of dripping preservative.
  • Seek to identify and use staging and storing areas where new ties are less likely to contact flowing or standing water.
  • Take reasonable care to ensure that ties remain in place and do not roll down nearby embankments during unloading.

Proceeds from the fine will pay for environmental improvement projects. Ecology and BNSF will select a project to receive $45,000 in the South Fork of the Nooksack River or the near shore marine environment in Whatcom or Skagit counties. The remaining $30,000 will be deposited into Ecology’s coastal protection fund, which provides grants to state agencies and local and tribal governments for environmental restoration projects that improve water quality.

Creosote-treated wood is toxic to aquatic life. Washington agencies have invested millions of dollars to remove creosote treated wood from marine and estuary waters.