Sandpoint Stops Oil Trains Week of Action 2015 Report


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On Monday evening, July 6, through Sunday afternoon, July 12, activists of Wild Idaho Rising Tide (WIRT), Spokane Rising Tide (SPORT), and the Occupy movement participated in several demonstrations of the Sandpoint Stops Oil Trains Week of Action 2015, to halt oil train traffic while commemorating the second anniversary of the July 6, 2013, Lac Mégantic, Quebec oil train catastrophe that took 47 lives [1, 2]. Together with climate, environmental, and social justice activists across North America, WIRT and allies organized and staged over 100 powerful and effective, local demonstrations during the Stop Oil Trains Week of Action [3, 4]. These events in the United States and Canada stood in solidarity, defense, and protection of the residents of Lac Mégantic, who lost 47 people killed by an exploding oil train, and other frontline, rail corridor communities and our shared global climate, all caught in the crosshairs of the oil and rail industries’ pipelines on wheels.

Although dozens of horrifying, fiery, extreme energy train wreck disasters have occurred over the last two years since the grim Quebec accident, northern Idaho and eastern Washington citizens continue to endure the unsafe, risky, and expanding rail transportation of potentially explosive Alberta tar sands dilbit, moved by the Union Pacific Railroad, and fracked Bakken shale oil, hauled by the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway (BNSF), both to Washington and West Coast refineries. BNSF has previously reported that 16 to 19 mile-long oil trains traverse the interior Northwest every week. Additionally on the 70-mile-long, railroad chokepoint between the Sandpoint and Spokane downtown areas, referred to as “the funnel,” BNSF carries dusty, diesel-towed coal from the Powder River Basin along the Montana/Wyoming border to coastal terminals for export. Recently revised federal regulations no longer require BNSF to report the number of oil trains that pass through the region, and have never forced disclosure of Union Pacific tar sands by rail volumes.

With their hazardous loads and reckless resource and policy exploitation, Big Oil and Rail discount and transgress the millions of lives, the human and environmental health and safety repercussions, and the associated carbon and other toxic pollution within the mile-wide, track-side, oil train blast zones, along their paths to profit around the Pacific Rim [5]. In appropriate response, thousands of concerned citizens gathered for 63 events in July 2014, including multiple protest and outreach actions in Sandpoint and Spokane [6]. 2015 participants joined in actions to publicly call attention to the growing threat of “bomb trains,” to display the growing power of the worldwide climate movement, and to demand an immediate ban on all crude oil trains.

Monday, July 6:

Eric de Place on Climate Justice Forum

Between 7:30 and 9:30 pm on the July 6 Lac Mégantic bomb train disaster second anniversary, the Climate Justice Forum radio program hosted by Wild Idaho Rising Tide featured a recording of Sightline Institute policy director Eric de Place. As the keynote speaker of the educational panel presentations and discussions on oil and coal transport and export held in Spokane and Sandpoint on June 23 and 24 and recently throughout the Northwest, Eric talked about increasing fossil fuel rail traffic and proposals for new and expanding facilities across the region [7]. Broadcast live at 90.3 FM and online from progressive, volunteer, community station KRFP Radio Free Moscow, the show also covered continent-wide climate activism and community opposition to dirty energy projects, thanks to the generous, anonymous listener who adopted program host Helen Yost as her KRFP DJ [8].

Friday, July 10, to Sunday, July 12:

SummerFest Tabling

A Sandpoint area WIRT comrade accomplished crucial and much appreciated outreach for our radical, grassroots, climate activist collective, from Friday afternoon, July 10, until Sunday afternoon, July 12, by tabling at Sandpoint SummerFest [9]. Among the festivities of the weekend music, arts, and culture festival, held every summer for 16 years by the Eureka Institute, participants shared, explored, and celebrated creative and educational classes, diverse musical entertainment and other performances, and sustainable crafts in a beautiful, woodland setting about 15 miles southeast of Sandpoint. Drawing and displaying a great, poster-sized graphic for the WIRT booth shared with other environmental groups, the Sandpoint activist printed and provided revised WIRT brochures and Flood the System hand-outs [10]. He described our perspectives on and participation in climate activism, rallied regional folks to assist upcoming, direct action opportunities led by WIRT, and signed up several new contacts.

Friday, July 10:

Message Projection, Candlelit Solidarity Vigil, & Light Panels

Thanks to activists of Spokane Rising Tide, Occupy, and WIRT, who co-wrote this report and carpooled, caravanned, and brought their selves and equipment on extended road trips from Spokane and Moscow, to converge in Sandpoint, Idaho, with area residents for Sandpoint Stops Oil Trains actions. Engaging in numerous conversations with passersby about the dangers of crude oil-by-rail shipments, we all enjoyed a fun evening of message projections, a candlelit vigil, and light panels at various Sandpoint locations on Friday, July 10 [10, 11]. We began the night by gathering with these neighboring co-workers, friends, and families in the parking lot beside Evans Brothers Coffee Roasters, off Church Street in Sandpoint.

After waiting for darker conditions, discussing tactics with Sandpoint activists, and moving from the east to the south side of Sandpoint’s tallest building, an old grain elevator, we delivered about 30 minutes of simple, projected, social and climate justice messages on the nearby silo, such as “Oil Trains = Bombs on Rails,” “No Bomb Trains,” “Honor the Earth,” “Stop Tar Sands,” and “End Fossil Fuel Foolishness,” among other slogans. Statements paralleled those projected by Ziggy onto Moscow, Idaho silos in early May 2014 [12]. Passersby in vehicles honked and gave us the “thumbs-up,” and people walking in the near vicinity stopped to ask us about the situations addressed by our action. Great discussions ensued in the streets, likely starting even more talk among distant onlookers who did not take the time to find and chat with us.

After this light show, we moved with our on-site, hand-made, protest signs to the corner of North Fifth Avenue/U.S. Highway 2 and Cedar Street, for a candlelit solidarity vigil, honoring the 47 people who died in the horrific Lac Mégantic, Quebec oil train tragedy, and commemorating the all-species victims of oil train derailments, explosions, and fires. Again, passersby noticed our action and briefly stopped to discuss the issue with us. Their interest and knowledge intensified our spirit of resistance throughout the evening, as we distributed WIRT brochures and urged involvement in upcoming events.

Considering another message projection session at an undisclosed location, we next visited the local train station, a recently restored historical monument. One single rail track passes within feet of the station, shared by all trains crossing the only rail bridge over Lake Pend Oreille. Both BNSF and Union Pacific are implementing and proposing major infrastructure changes at and around this Sandpoint rail bottleneck. BNSF plans to build a second trestle over the lake, north and next to the present rail bridge and visible from Sandpoint City Beach Park, to accommodate its reckless endangerment of the lake community, imposed by unit trains transporting highly volatile crude oil and their current and possible impacts. We learned that the nightly, westbound, Amtrak train was again running two hours late, which sparked discussions with rail riders about oil train priority over passenger trains, and prompted our message on the train station chalkboard: “Oil Trains Are Bombs on Rails” [10].

Lastly, we went to City Beach Park, to highlight the destination’s isolated vulnerability if a bomb train ever exploded near downtown Sandpoint. Holding a sign with letters shaped by miniature lights saying “Oil Train Blast Zone” and another regular poster that stated “47 Died,” we posed for pictures in front of Sandpoint’s iconic Lady of the Lake, a small version of the Statue of Liberty located at the end of a short pier overlooking Lake Pend Oreille, on the southeast side of the park [10]. Our signage again drew attention and helped us reach out to the community and engage it in conversations about the dozens of oil trains that rumble within feet of the surrounding, popular recreation site, typically densely populated during the summertime.

Saturday, July 11:

Community Outreach & Oil Train Encounter

Between 9 am and 3 pm on Saturday, July 11, a WIRT activist circulated on the Bridge Street bridge, City Beach Park, and the Sandpoint Boardwalk and Marina, spoke with passersby, and distributed flyers about oil trains and facilities and WIRT campaigns, to recruit participants in later, anti-fossil-fuel-train and water-based actions on and around Lake Pend Oreille. Rainy weather, which also dropped in from the sky to participate in two downtown Sandpoint events, drew her from the canoe, kayak, and paddleboard races of the Great Sandpoint Flatwater Regatta, the annual Parade of Boats, and the Antique and Classic Boat Show, all held in Sand Creek, toward the covered decks of the Cedar Street Bridge Public Market.

Only 15 minutes before the noon meeting time of the planned WIRT marching rally against bomb trains, a unit oil train skirted downtown Sandpoint, a few hundred feet from busy City Beach Park, the human-powered watercraft race, boat show, and parade in Sand Creek, and the WIRT protest launch site at Farmers’ Market, a mere four blocks away [13]. Videotaping train passage, the activist wondered when concerned Sandpoint area citizens would join us on the tracks and lake, in opposition to shale and tar sands oil and coal trains.

When this WIRT member arrived without the previous night’s signs at the protest staging point, the Farmin Park clock outside the Farmers’ Market, at North Third Avenue and Oak Street, no one else also came to confront the polluting, life-risking, climate-killing oppressors who slipped a bomb train within yards of Sandpoint weekend revelry, while the lone activist patiently awaited community resistance to dirty energy, not comrades. A sign at the gathering place stated “The Farmers’ Market at Sandpoint does not endorse views expressed in demonstrations on public property” [10]. We later learned from local activists that the sign targeted not so much our relatively peaceful, no-show demonstration as the anti-abortion cult that has been aggressively picketing women at the market and other venues, with posters of dead, bloody babies.

Sunday, July 12:

Blast Zone Chalking & Train Monitoring

From 1 to 6 pm on Sunday, July 12, WIRT marked the mile-wide, direct impact areas of potentially combusting oil trains in downtown Sandpoint, with chalk declaring “Oil Train Blast Zone” on public sidewalks at five key locations [10]. We started at the driveway entrance to the newly constructed Health Services Building and sky bridge of Bonner General Hospital, near the southwest corner of Alder Street and North Third Avenue. The entire hospital complex sits prominently atop the bluff across Sand Creek from the bomb train route to the Lake Pend Oreille rail bridge.

Throughout the afternoon, we wrote our message, signed it with “Wild Idaho Rising Tide,” and left a few WIRT brochures under nearby rocks, as several passersby asked about the meaning of our pavement art. Choosing locations with high amounts of foot traffic and/or community significance, we thoroughly inscribed our message near the Panida Theater and the Sand Creek arch (at the North First Avenue and Main Street intersection), in front of the doors to the Sandpoint Post Office (off North Fourth Avenue and Church Street), at the entrance to City Beach Park (near the east end of Bridge Street), and by the interactive fountain of the Downtown Square near Farmin Park (on the northeast corner of Oak Street and North Third Avenue).

Exhausted from plenty of long-distance and pedestrian travel, tenuous accommodations, and multiple oil train protesting and monitoring activities over the weekend, a WIRT activist awaiting an Amtrak train at the Sandpoint station observed and videotaped nine trains traveling southwest through the railroad funnel from Sandpoint to Spokane, between 10:05 pm on Sunday, July 12, and 1:05 am on Monday, July 13. As part of the Idaho and Washington oil train watch information sharing network on Twitter at ‪#‎IDoiltrainwatch and ‪#‎WAoiltrainwatch, she likewise documented and Tweeted about another unit oil train passing the station at 1:30 am on July 13 [14, 15]. During this passage, a creepy, headlight-less, southbound vehicle parked on the right shoulder of U.S. Highway 95 near the station, and then turned on its lights, U-turned, and headed north afterwards. The westbound Amtrak train arrived more than two hours late, at about 2:05 am on Monday, and unsafely followed about a half-hour behind the oil train, over the wobbly Lake Pend Oreille rail bridge, from Sandpoint to Spokane. This transit and a July 11 oil train traverse of Sandpoint, respectively just before WIRT activist departure and a WIRT protest, seemed to taunt and dismiss potential direct actions.

Reflections on Sandpoint Stops Oil Trains 2015 Actions

Although energy-intensive and lonely WIRT efforts to mobilize the Sandpoint community to protest and monitor Bakken shale and Alberta tar sands crude oil trains during the Sandpoint Stops Oil Trains Week of Action 2015 and throughout the warm seasons have drawn disparagement from WIRT members and allies, we always gain invaluable insights, connections, support, and inspiration from every action we persistently offer for participation. Passersby shared plenty of curiosity and enthusiasm, but a relative dearth of understanding of the dire, nationwide, bomb train circumstances, apparent in their questions. That suggests to us the necessity of creatively expressive, public demonstrations of dissent against fossil fuels. As Spokane-based Dancing Crow Media noted last week:

When we talk with people about the trains and the potential for disaster, we find that most people don’t have any idea what’s going on. Actions like this are important. [They] could start a conversation in a car as it passes by, and who knows where that will go? I guess we believe that people will care if you give them a good reason to. We’ll keep trying [16].

WIRT also echoes Spokane Rising Tide’s response to the sometimes awkward but always meaningful interactions with community members that arise during public, climate activist escapades:

We were very proud and thankful for the opportunity to have those conversations. Change has never happened without people becoming engaged. We hope we played a small role in that engagement with our actions [11].

While Sandpoint requires further on-the-ground work to most fully activate its citizenry on this issue, we glimpsed oil and railroad companies blatantly reacting to WIRT activities over the weekend, such as sending an oil train through Sandpoint in advance of the Saturday protest and increasing security around a bomb train that followed nine obviously WIRT-videotaped train movements past the Sandpoint station. We must physically document, expose, denounce, and reject the dangerous practices of the fossil fuel and railroad industries in our communities, to successfully halt their onslaughts. If we can collectively and independently battle and banish tar sands megaloads and coal export facilities from the four-state region, during five long years employing both conventional political and litigative methods and asymmetric warfare tactics, we can banish bomb trains from the inland Northwest, too! Please do not let another oil train pass without your direct involvement in stopping it: We all need your heroic feats sooner than later.

[1] Sandpoint Stops Oil Trains Week of Action 2015 (July 6, 2015 Wild Idaho Rising Tide)

[2] Sandpoint Stops Oil Trains Week of Action 2015 (July 6, 2015 Wild Idaho Rising Tide)

[3] Sandpoint Stops Oil Trains Week of Action 2015 (July 6, 2015 Wild Idaho Rising Tide)

[4] Stop Oil Trains Week of Action: July 6 – 12, 2015 (ForestEthics)

[5] Oil Train Blast Zone (ForestEthics)

[6] Idaho Week of Actions Against Bomb Trains (July 2, 2014 Wild Idaho Rising Tide)

[7] COIL (Coal and Oil) Forum Held at Gonzaga Law Library, June 23, 2015 – Full Version (July 12, 2015 Dancing Crow Media)

[8] KRFP Radio Free Moscow (KRFP Radio Free Moscow)

[9] Sandpoint SummerFest (Eureka Institute)

[10] Sandpoint Stops Oil Trains Week of Action 2015 7-6-15 to 7-12-15 (July 10-12, 2015 Wild Idaho Rising Tide)

[11] Photos and Commentary (July 11, 2015 Spokane Rising Tide)

[12] Photos (July 7, 2015 Wild Idaho Rising Tide)

[13] Sandpoint Stops Oil Trains Week of Action 2015 Bomb Train (July 11, 2015 Wild Idaho Rising Tide)

[14] Sandpoint Stops Oil Trains Week of Action 2015 Bomb Train 2 (July 13, 2015 Wild Idaho Rising Tide)

[15] Oil unit train… Tweet (July 13, 2015 Wild Idaho Rising Tide)

[16] Comment (July 8, 2015 Dancing Crow Media)

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