Wednesday Sandpoint Oil/Coal Train Forum & Other Events

Lake Pend Oreille Oil Train

Climate concerned comrades,

This Wild Idaho Rising Tide (WIRT) event alert and upcoming newsletter cover mostly Idaho- and Montana-centric developments in the oil and coal train and terminal issues since late October 2014, in hopes of eventually sharing more news about hundreds-strong turnouts at Spokane and Olympia hearings on the Washington Marine and Rail Oil Transportation Study in October, along with stories about several blockades of train tracks and a state agency by our great Rising Tide and allied comrades in the Pacific Northwest, since WIRT’s mid-July Sandpoint “bomb train” protest and regional actions with Spokane Rising Tide.

Postponed Keystone XL Pledge of Resistance Trainings

After scrutinizing bus schedules, car rentals, and travel logistics over the weekend, WIRT activists have discussed and decided to postpone announcing and staging the Keystone XL Pledge of Resistance training workshops in five regional cities until February 2015.  Thanks for your patience with this situation.  We just do not have the $250 to $300 travel funds or the survival-drained, physical energy to make this rigorous tour happen.  Allowing a week for response, we have not received a reply from the larger, national organizers of the trainings, who garnered almost 100,000 pledges and presumably would supply some of the training materials and share much needed inland Northwest contacts.  While we would appreciate attracting with these workshops some of the middle ground of the climate movement from Big Green bandwagons toward more assertive, local direct actions, we must remain focused on more pressing regional fossil fuels resistance during January, which only a few grassroots groups are supporting.

Although we will miss commemorating the informal fourth anniversary of WIRT (January 17) with a similar Moscow training in our former meeting space, The Attic, we will likely reschedule Sandpoint/Spokane, Boise/Moscow, and Missoula trainings on three successive February weekends, depending on venue availability.  By then, various colleges and universities will have rejoined the academic year, and activists may already be in these areas for protests or hearings, as we together raise the hundreds of dollars required in advance for trainer transportation.  Attendees may especially benefit from the legal expertise of much appreciated attorneys leading “know your rights” portions of these workshops.  Thanks to all of the participants in the Third Annual Stand Up! Fight Back! Against Fossil Fuels in the Northwest! meetings, who have graciously provided input and worked on arrangements for these trainings [1].

Sandpoint Oil/Coal Train Public Forum

The City of Sandpoint, Idaho, is finally sponsoring a community forum on north Idaho coal and oil train issues at 5:30 pm on Wednesday, January 14, 2015, in Sandpoint City Council Chambers at 1123 Lake Street [2].  Sandpoint Mayor Carrie Logan called for this public meeting in mid-December, to provide an opportunity to hear current information about expanding coal and oil rail traffic and to discuss the risks, challenges, and possible solutions of citizen and community safety and wellbeing currently compromised by air, water, and noise pollution, crossing delays, economic impacts, and potential train derailments.  The city has invited the public and local, state, and federal representatives, along with spokespersons of Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF), Montana Rail Link (MRL), and Union Pacific (UP) railroads.  As tentatively scheduled, Chris Bessler, owner and publisher of Sandpoint Magazine, will offer an issue overview and introductions and moderate presentations by Casey Calkin and Jim Lewis of MRL, Bob Howard of Bonner County Emergency Services, Ross Lane and Gus Melonas of BNSF, Mayor Carrie Logan, citizen advocate Gary Payton, and Jared Yost of the Sandpoint Mapping and GIS Department.  Anticipating a lively evening with good citizen turnout, the government/railroad panel will accept written questions, comments, and concerns collected from the audience and asked by the moderator.  Contact the Mayor’s office at 263‐3310 or, for further information about this event.

Closed Oil/Coal Train Meetings

As public awareness and interest has grown around this issue, in the wake of fiery oil train derailments across North America during the last 18 months and since nationwide, July 2014 actions marking the Lac Megantic tragedy anniversary, various public and nonprofit agencies have either facilitated or denied essential discussions about these crisis topics in Idaho.  Citizens have gathered openly and drawn federal scrutiny, while public officials have met secretly, apparently with the blessing of state government.  On December 8, 9, and 10, 2014, WIRT and interested activists held the Third Annual Stand Up! Fight Back! Against Fossil Fuels in the Northwest! planning meetings in Sandpoint, Spokane, and Moscow, to discuss desired coal and oil train forums and actions and Keystone XL pipeline protest training and frontline resistance [1].  Before these three sessions concluded, the Federal Bureau of Investigation contacted Wild Idaho Rising Tide organizer Helen Yost by phone and later text, seeking conversations [3, 4].

On the next day, Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden educated 75 Sandpoint area officials and citizens during his northern Idaho tour to explain state open meeting and public records laws and purportedly encourage public involvement (but probably not share suggestions on resolving typical agency abuses of these laws) [5, 6].  On that same Thursday, December 11, three area mayors, a county commissioner, state senator, and representatives of the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality, Lake Pend Oreille Waterkeeper, and Idaho Conservation League banned the public from a closed meeting about increased coal and oil train traffic.  Local reportage included a quote from a citizen who said that the Sandpoint mayor told him that the meeting was closed to the public, while no city officials attended Wasden’s workshop.  Critical news stories with denouncements of the fiasco spread from the local Sandpoint newspaper to Coeur d’Alene and Boise, Idaho, Spokane, Washington, and Washington D.C. [7-11].

Banished, rightfully outraged citizens cried “plutocracy” and “tyranny” and wondered why elected officials and relevant government employees wrongly included some members of the public and organizations but excluded others from discussions of environmental and public safety issues.  Appalled Sandpoint residents blamed other participating government entities and environmental groups just as much as city officials for not announcing this meeting.  Some observers suggested that the occurrence seemed to correlate with rumors that the Attorney General has been bribed by Big Oil to relax enforcement of environmental regulations.  Citizens speculated whether the “informational meeting trying to clarify and identify risks” may have considered trains every half-hour over the single-track Lake Pend Oreille bridge, chances of fatal or water-contaminating train mishaps, or recent initiatives to limit constant train horn sounds with a railroad quiet zone, to establish better safeguards and barriers at rail crossings, or to build parallel tracks through town and a second lake railroad bridge that would alleviate Burlington Northern Santa Fe and Montana Rail Link bottlenecks [12-15].  Residents approached the City of Sandpoint for  public records about this closed meeting, while WIRT called for a belated, open, “public education event like a panel discussion” co-hosted with allies, as discussed at the WIRT planning meeting in Sandpoint on December 8 [16].

Idaho Conservation League admitted that this gathering was “one of several meetings we’ve had in recent months with various local leaders to discuss threats and opportunities related to this important public health and safety issue” [17].  Its Sandpoint-based representative, who participated in the closed meeting, revealed topics of discussion ranging from the sharp increase in unit oil trains crossing north Idaho (from a dozen per week in June 2014 to 18 to 21 in December 2014) to the shortage of inspections of train tracks and hazardous material rail cars [18].  Meeting attendees also watched a ten-minute video entitled Boom, summarizing a special report about the fracked Bakken shale oil boom in North Dakota and eastern Montana and the transport of resulting, unusually volatile oil in outdated U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT)-111 tanker cars of “bomb trains” that can derail and explode [19].  They explored the potential benefits of a similar, abbreviated Idaho version of the Washington Marine and Rail Oil Transportation Study and of inclusion of north Idaho concerns in the environmental impact statement for the proposed Tongue River Railroad spur line from Montana coal mines.

Anarchistic WIRT activists demonstrate that citizens will legally organize without their governments, if elected and appointed officials cannot uphold public trust and participation and the common good.  But we are somewhat relieved that we no longer have to arrange, for now, a Sandpoint area public forum, concerned that “government officials may decline to participate, averting public perceptions of association with radicals,” although Spokane would still benefit from a similar event with more balanced stakeholder representation [1].  Resentful of previous closed meetings and suspicious of constrained written interaction at the upcoming forum, we wonder whether government and non-governmental officials deserve public participation amongst such exclusionary, elitist behavior.  Sandpoint is brewing a storm of words this week, after which a downpour of actions surely follows.

[1] Third Annual Stand Up! Fight Back! Against Fossil Fuels in the Northwest! (December 5, 2014 Wild Idaho Rising Tide)

[2] City of Sandpoint Media Release (December 16, 2014 City of Sandpoint)

[3] FBI WIRT Inquiries (December 28, 2014 Wild Idaho Rising Tide)

[4] Spokane FBI Article/Protest Photo Shoot at 10 am Thursday 1/8/15 (January 7, 2015 Wild Idaho Rising Tide)

[5] Four IDOG Seminars Set for December (November 25, 2014 Idahoans for Openness in Government)

[6] Standing-Room Only for Open Government Workshop in Sandpoint (December 12, 2014 Spokesman-Review)

[7] Sandpoint Bars Public from Rail Issues Meeting (December 12, 2014 Bonner County Daily Bee)

[8] City Defends Decision to Bar Public (December 13, 2014 Coeur d’Alene Press)

[9] North Idaho Officials Close Doors to Public on Same Day that Wasden is in Town for Open Meeting Workshops (December 12, 2014 Boise Weekly)

[10] Sandpoint Officials Discuss Coal and Oil Trains Behind Closed Doors (December 12, 2014 Spokesman-Review)

[11] Public Banned from Coal Train Meeting in North Idaho (December 13, 2014 Washington Times)

[12] Sandpoint Eyes Railroad Quiet Zone (November 14, 2014 Associated Press)

[13] Quiet Zone Plan Could Cost City (November 20, 2014 Bonner County Daily Bee)

[14] November 19 Sandpoint, Idaho, City Council Meeting (November 20, 2014 Constance Albrecht facebook post)

[15] BNSF Seeks Second Bridge at Sandpoint (September 17, 2014 Spokesman-Review)

[16] Meeting Prompts Drive to Investigate Issues (December 25, 2014 Bonner County Daily Bee)

[17] Public Officials Get Up to Speed on Rail Transport Issues (December 16, 2014 Idaho Conservation League)

[18] FYI Idaho Rail Inspectors Info (December 19, 2014 Terry Hill facebook post)

[19] Video – Boom: North America’s Explosive Oil-by-Rail Problem (December 8, 2014 InsideClimate News and The Weather Channel)

2 thoughts on “Wednesday Sandpoint Oil/Coal Train Forum & Other Events

  1. Pingback: WIRT Report on Sandpoint Oil and Coal Train Traffic Public Forum | Wild Idaho Rising Tide

  2. Pingback: Sandpoint Stops Oil Trains Week of Action 2015 | Wild Idaho Rising Tide

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