BNSF Railway Black Tank Property
3202 E Wellesley, Spokane, WA 99207


Proposal to remove contaminated shallow soil

Ecology seeks your input on an amendment to the legal agreement with BNSF Railway and Marathon Oil, the parties responsible for cleaning up the BNSF Railway Black Tank site.

The amendment requires the responsible parties to excavate and dispose up to 15 feet of contaminated soil at each of the five surface soil contamination areas in 2018 before the cleanup action plan is final. This interim cleanup action is necessary to keep the North Spokane Corridor freeway construction on schedule.

BNSF and Marathon considered possible environmental impacts of the soil removal using the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) Checklist. After reviewing the checklist, we determined that it will not adversely impact humans or the environment (Determination of Non-significance).

Learn more in the fact sheet that was mailed to nearby residents, businesses, and others interested in the cleanup.
Review the draft documents
Submit comments via email, mail, or online by July 3 to:
Jeremy Schmidt,
4601 N. Monroe St., Spokane, WA 99205
eComment form
Next steps
Ecology will review all comments received during the comment period and decide whether to modify the documents. If no significant changes are made, the proposal will become final. If significant changes are made, an additional public comment period will be held.

We will hold a public meeting if 10 people request it. As of June 11, we have received two requests.

BNSF Railway Yard in March 1931. (Washington Air National Guard photo, Ted Holloway collection)
Please click on the photo for a larger view


The BNSF Railway Black Tank Property is in the Hillyard neighborhood. The site is directly over the Hillyard Trough portion of the Spokane-Valley Rathdrum-Prairie Aquifer. The aquifer provides drinking water to nearly 500,000 residents in the Spokane area.

The site housed a 50-foot-diameter, above-ground, black tank that stored petroleum products. The tank was built as early as 1910 and was actively used until 1988. The tank was connected to piping and other infrastructure facilities. The petroleum products were used in various industrial operations. Residual petroleum products were stored until 2006 when BNSF removed the tank.

North Spokane Corridor construction in Hillyard is on schedule

The site is within the proposed path of the North Spokane Corridor. The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) is building the freeway to connect US Highway 395 to Interstate 90. 

WSDOT considered other alignment options due to uncertainty about how cleanup could impact the freeway design and construction schedule. The nearby community preferred the original alignment over going around the site to the west because it would require high bridge clearances over BNSF's rail lines and bring the freeway closer to the downtown Hillyard business district.

To keep the freeway on its original, community-preferred alignment, Ecology and WSDOT entered into a framework agreement with BNSF. The framework sets the basis for WSDOT to continue design and construction of the freeway, provides WSDOT right-of-way access to BNSF’s property, and ensures that cleanup infrastructure can co-exist with the freeway.

A petroleum-contaminated soil sample taken from the BNSF Black Tank Property
Please click on the photo for a larger view


Petroleum products were spilled or leaked to soil and groundwater during historic site activities.

The primary petroleum products that spilled or leaked were diesel and a heavy oil known as bunker C. An approximately 7-acre plume is on groundwater 170 feet below the ground surface. These petroleum products are very thick, difficult to pump, and will be challenging to clean up because of the depth and type of contamination.

Because the petroleum products are thick, the contamination is staying on top of the groundwater with very little mixing occurring. Many groundwater monitoring wells are at the site, and drinking water is not affected by the contamination at this time. Monitoring will continue until the cleanup process is complete.

However, it’s important to understand and clean up the contamination while it still remains reasonably isolated, and Ecology will oversee the cleanup process until the site is protective of human health and the environment.

BNSF removing the black tank in 2006.
Please click on the photo for a larger view


BNSF Railway and Marathon Oil are responsible for the cleanup. BNSF removed the black tank in 2006, along with contaminated soil under and around the tank. BNSF then discovered petroleum products in a monitoring well in 2008.

Ecology entered into an Agreed Order with BNSF and Marathon in 2012, requiring them to conduct a remedial investigation and feasibility study (RI/FS). The RI gathered information about the extent and locations of petroleum contamination in soil and groundwater at the site. The FS evaluates cleanup options.

The draft RI/FS was available for public review and comment May 22 through June 22, 2017. We received comments from 21 people and published our responses. We also sent them to everyone who commented and appreciate their interest and input.

Ecology received four requests for a public meeting during the draft RI/FS comment period, which did not meet the 10 requests we require to justify the costs of holding one. However, when requestors provided contact information, we offered to meet with them individually to answer questions and listen to concerns. No one accepted these offers.

We have written the draft cleanup action plan and are negotiating the associated legal agreement with BNSF and Marathon. These documents will be available for public review and comment when ready. We will hold a public meeting during this comment period.

After the cleanup action plan is final and the associated legal agreement is in place, BNSF and Marathon will follow the plan to address contamination at the site.


Map showing site location as Spokane County, WA SITE INFORMATION


View Electronic Documents

Site Summary Report

Facility Site ID: # 98615712

Cleanup Site ID: 3243

Spokane, Spokane County

Status: Cleanup Started   Get definitions of Status terminology

Comment Period:
JUNE 04, 2018 - JULY 03, 2018

Jeremy Schmidt
Site Manager
(509) 329-3484

Erika Bronson
Public Involvement Coordinator
(509) 329-3546

Document Repositories:

Eastern Regional Office
N 4601 Monroe St
Spokane, 99205-1265

Spokane Public Library Hillyard Branch
4005 N. Cook St.
Spokane, 99207