Local leaders of the Sierra Club yesterday demanded an independent investigation of a diesel leak from a Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Co. (BNSF) refueling station that...

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SPOKANE — Local leaders of the Sierra Club yesterday demanded an independent investigation of a diesel leak from a Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Co. (BNSF) refueling station that sits atop the only source of drinking water for 400,000 people in two states.


The leak of wastewater containing diesel fuel and motor oil was discovered Dec. 10 at the fueling station at Hauser, Idaho, about 25 miles northeast of Spokane.


The state-of-the-art refueling depot, intended to relieve train congestion in the Seattle area, opened Sept. 1 over the objections of many residents and environmental groups who feared it would pollute the underground water supply for the greater Spokane region.


“This mistake shows the utter failure of government to provide basic protections for our sole source of drinking water,” said Rachael Paschal Osborn, a lawyer who represents Friends of the Aquifer and the Sierra Club.


Gus Melonas, a spokesman for the railroad in Seattle, said BNSF is keeping state and county officials apprised of the situation.


While it does not appear that drinking water is at risk, BNSF scientists are studying engineering methods to make sure no contamination occurs in the future, Melonas said.


“The fractured pipe has been taken out of service and the entire wastewater system has been pressure-tested to ensure its integrity,” Melonas said in a telephone interview.


The refueling station remains in operation, he said.


Officials for the railroad proudly showed off the 500,000-gallon refueling depot Aug. 31, declaring it was too well-designed to pollute the aquifer that runs from the Rathdrum Prairie of Idaho to Spokane.


But a crack occurred at some point in an 8-inch plastic pipe, allowing wastewater mixed with small amounts of diesel fuel and motor oil to get into the soil.


Melonas said an investigation is under way to determine when the crack might have occurred, how much pollution was leaked and what effects it may have had on the aquifer. The investigation will not be concluded until next week, he said.


State regulators said this week that it appears at least some diesel and oil leaked into the aquifer.


The Sierra Club and Friends of the Aquifer also want Kootenai County, Idaho, officials to determine if the railroad performed the 33 conditions imposed in the permit issued by the county to the railroad in 2000.


“This depot was supposed to be built to the highest engineering standards,” said Julian Powers, board member of Friends of the Aquifer. “… It is critical that a competent and independent engineering team be hired at BNSF’s expense to review construction of the facility.”