Department of Ecology News Release - August 10, 2015

BNSF fined $86,000 for water quality violations in Whatcom and Skagit counties


The 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.

“BNSF has repeatedly disregarded water quality protection at projects along or near the water,” said Heather Bartlett, Ecology’s Water Quality program manager. “We understand the importance of repair and maintenance, but all sorts of industries plan environmental practices into such work. We expect BNSF Railway to do so, as well.”

Ecology’s penalty covers four projects along BNSF rail lines:

  • August 2013 in Bellingham: BNSF left debris, including fill and creosote pilings, in and near the water at Chuckanut Bay.
  • February 2014 in Van Zandt: BNSF placed railroad ties, newly treated with creosote, in ditches flowing with water. Ecology inspectors noted creosote pooling on the surface of many of the ties, residue stains on snow and ground underneath, and creosote sheen in the water.
  • November 2014 in Burlington: BNSF placed several hundred freshly coated creosote replacement ties onto areas that sloped to wetlands and ditches in Burlington. The ties slid to the water’s edge and creosote sheen was found in the water.
  • December 2014, January and February 2015 in Bellingham: BNSF placed construction debris including fill material and creosote-treated ties in a seasonally flooded area that drains to Bellingham Bay. 

Creosote is toxic to aquatic life, and Washington has invested millions of dollars removing creosote treated wood from marine and estuarine waters. Excess sediment in the water damages habitat and can smother fish spawning areas.

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

Proceeds from Ecology’s water quality penalties supports Ecology’s Coastal Protection Fund, which issues grants to public agencies for natural resource restoration projects.

Ecology actions under state clean water law may be appealed within 30 days to the Washington State Pollution Control Hearings Board.

Contact information

Larry Altose
Communications manager
Twitter: ecyseattle
Doug Allen
Bellingham Field Office supervisor