WIRT Report on Sandpoint Oil and Coal Train Traffic Public Forum


Various north Idaho city, county, and state government elected and agency officials and two environmental organization representatives banned the public from several closed meetings during recent months, while they discussed the environmental and public health and safety threats and opportunities for resolution of increased coal and oil train traffic across the Panhandle [1-3].  In the wake of critical news stories denouncing this fiasco from Sandpoint to Boise, Idaho, and from Spokane, Washington, to Washington D.C., excluded, rightfully appalled citizens expressed regrets that participating government entities and environmental groups denied them access to these essential conversations about such crisis topics, even while public awareness has grown in response to fiery oil train derailments across North America during the 18 months since the tragic Lac Megantic disaster that incinerated 47 lives in July 2013.

Perhaps in embarrassment, the City of Sandpoint, Idaho, sponsored and hosted 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 Sandpoint City Hall, 1123 Lake Street [4].  Sandpoint Mayor Carrie Logan called for this public meeting in mid-December, to provide an opportunity for citizens to hear current information about expanding coal and oil rail traffic and to discuss the risks, challenges, and possible solutions of community safety and wellbeing currently compromised by air, water, and noise pollution, crossing delays, economic impacts, and potential train derailments.

The city 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.  Event moderator Chris Bessler, owner and publisher of Sandpoint Magazine, offered an issue overview and introduced the eight citizen, city and county government, and railroad company panelists.  In order of appearance, Mayor Carrie Logan, citizen advocate Gary Payton, Jared Yost of the Sandpoint Mapping and GIS Department, Bob Howard of Bonner County Emergency Services, Gus Melonas and Ross Lane of BNSF, and Jim Lewis and Casey Calkin of MRL each gave approximately ten-minute presentations.  Anticipating a lively evening with good citizen turnout, the panel accepted written questions, comments, and concerns collected from the audience and asked by the moderator.  During the last 15 minutes of the forum, city and county residents approached the panel with their verbal queries and assertions. Continue reading