State seeks to fine BNSF $700K for hazardous waste spills

EVERETT — State regulators Thursday recommended fining Burlington Northern Santa Fe up to $700,000 for 14 hazardous materials spills in recent months, including two in Everett.

The state Utilities and Transportation Commission will grant the railroad a hearing to present its side of the case before determining the fine amount.

No hearing date has been set, UTC spokeswoman Amanda Maxwell said. Commissioners will weigh factors such as the potential danger any violations posed, as well as BNSF’s cooperation and the company’s track record.

UTC inspectors reported 14 spills involving BNSF between Nov. 1 and Feb. 24, the commission said in a release.

On Dec. 9, the inspectors noted two instances of leaking liquid of hazardous solid waste in the Delta Yard in north Everett.

The next day, there were reports of sludge leaking at the same site from a shipment classified as hazardous solid waste. That involved solid waste in bags on open container cars, Maxwell said.

In other parts of the state, inspectors recorded four instances of tank cars leaking crude oil. Those incidents reportedly occurred in south Seattle, Vancouver, Auburn and Blaine. Other spills and leaks in the current enforcement action involved lube oil, diesel, gas and hazardous solid waste.

BNSF issued a statement saying that the company is committed to following all local, state and federal guidelines. The Fort Worth, Texas-based railroad, the largest operating in Washington, said it plans to work with the state on the current issue.

“In regards to releases in Washington state, we believe we were complying in good faith with the requirements from our agency partners,” spokesman Gus Melonas said. “Following guidance from the UTC in January 2015, BNSF reviewed its reporting-notification process and amended its practices to address concerns identified by the UTC. We will continue to work closely with the UTC moving forward on this issue.”

Under state law, each day the company fails to report an incident constitutes a separate violation. The commission can impose fines of up to $1,000 per violation per day. In the current case, that means that BNSF must answer to 700 different violations.

State rail-safety rules require railroads to make a report by telephone within 30 minutes of learning of a hazardous materials spill.

The UTC says its staff sent a letter in October to remind BNSF of the reporting requirements and followed up with another letter in February.

BNSF’s most recent UTC violation was a $55,000 fine imposed in 2013 for failing to timely repair defects at seven railroad crossings in Skagit and Whatcom counties.

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465; Twitter: @NWhaglund.

Correction, March 20, 2015: The headline on this story originally stated an incorrect amount for the proposed fine.

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