Derailment clean up continues on Kootenai River

By Lyndsie Kiebert
Reader Staff

Efforts to clean up the Kootenai River are ongoing after three locomotive engines and six rail cars jumped the track Jan. 1, with crews focused on removing one remaining engine from the water in the coming days.

Diesel fuel creates a sheen on the Kootenai River near a backup water intake for the city of Bonners Ferry. Courtesy photo.

“We are now positioning equipment, including ground hoists and bulldozers, to safely remove the remaining locomotive from the river,” BNSF spokesperson Courtney Wallace told the Reader Jan. 21. “Using air bags placed by a Portland-based dive team, the plan is to lift the locomotive and bring it across to the north shore of the river.”

Wallace said BNSF hopes to begin that process the weekend of Saturday, Jan. 25.

“The river bottom will then be checked for debris and cleaned if found,” she said. “The site will [then] be returned to its former condition.The overall operation is expected to be completed in early February.”

Wallace said BNSF continues to “work closely with regulatory agencies to monitor the river and protect the surrounding environment.”

Though analysis of the derailment and its effects continues, Bonners Ferry City Engineer Mike Klaus said a main concern has been on monitoring sources of city drinking water.

Klaus said that Bonners Ferry has two surface water intakes that deliver water to its treatment plant: Myrtle Creek and the Kootenai River. He said that after the derailment, diesel was observed in the Kootenai River around the city’s water intake area, making that source unusable.

“If the city were to have turbidity problems with the Myrtle Creek source, the city would have struggled significantly to provide enough drinking water to its customers,” Klaus said.

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