Crews removed contaminated soil from the Swinomish Reservation in Skagit County where two locomotives derailed and spilled an estimated 3,100 gallons of diesel fuel on a berm near a bay just after midnight Thursday.
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The Washington State Department of Ecology tweeted at 6 a.m. that the ecology and the Marine Spill Response Corporation were responding to the scene on the Swinomish Reservation in Anacortes.
The spill occurred on a berm, and most of the diesel leaks on the land side, according to the Washington State Department of Ecology. The train, which officials said was en route to Burlington, belonged to BNSF Railway, a North American freight railroad company.
“It was just shocking,” stated Cyndi Remming. She and her husband are camped in their RV in a lot near the derailment. “I woke up my husband. I was like, ‘There’s a train derailment!’ He’s like, ‘No there’s not,’ and I’m like, ‘Yeah, get out of bed, there’s a train!’”
The Remmings for the past 20 years have vacationed at the Swinomish Reservation, and never expected to see anything like this. They watched crews work for hours Thursday to return these two derailed engines to the tracks.
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“They’ve got some booms out there in the water so that is very concerning because it is a fairly small waterway that goes out to the Puget Sound,” Remming stated.
BNSF would not comment about the early investigation, and a spokesperson did not know when the agency last inspected the engines or the tracks.
A top priority for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the lead investigator in this case, is to remove the contaminated soil, then test the area before backfilling with clean soil. Officials are confident the booms are keeping the spilled diesel out of the bay.
“We have people out checking the channel and there’s been no sheen on the channel. There’s no impacts to fish or wildlife,” Mike Sibley with the EPA added.
Chairman Tom Wooten of the nearby Samish Indian Nation states this spill signals a larger infrastructure issue as these derailments are becoming more common around the country.
“This easily could’ve been a different scenario given the materials that are transported in and out of these facilities,” Wooten said.
Officials hope to get the train tracks back open by noon on Friday.
Department of Ecology records show the last oil spill caused by a train derailment in Washington was in December 2020 in Custer, a spill of nearly 29,000 gallons.
A BNSF spokesperson confirmed the derailment via email at 10:35 a.m. Initially, the Washington State Department of Ecology estimated about 5,000 gallons of diesel spilled. During a 1:25 p.m. press conference, however, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said that figure was closer to 2,500 gallons.
The United States has recently experienced numerous high-profile incidents involving the destruction of critical infrastructure, including fires at warehouses and food processing plants, and other events impacting the nation’s food, water and energy assets.
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