Totem Poles & Kayaks Against Fossil Fuels: Second Panhandle Paddle

Totem Poles & Kayaks Against Fossil Fuels Flyer

Join in some summer fun on the water and beach to show Big Oil and King Coal and their railroad industry haulers and government facilitators that north Idahoans will not stand for their reckless endangerment of our lives, communities, water, air, and climate with their explosive Alberta tar sands and Bakken crude oil trains and their heavy, dusty Powder River Basin coal trains. Wild Idaho Rising Tide (WIRT) activists, members, and friends in Sandpoint, Moscow, Spokane, and across the interior Northwest are organizing and hosting the second annual Panhandle Paddle at 11 am on Sunday, August 28.  We invite everyone to bring their boats of any kind and converge after the Lummi Totem Pole Journey visit at City Beach Park in Sandpoint, Idaho, for music, speakers, and on- and off-shore protests of Northwest fossil fuel transports and terminals and Lake Pend Oreille rail bridge deterioration, use, and expansion [1].  Please also participate in these second Panhandle Paddle activities:

Sign Preparation Party

RSVP and meet at 1 pm on Saturday, August 27, at the WIRT outreach table under the Farmin Park clock at the Farmers’ Market at Sandpoint, or anytime on Saturday afternoon at the WIRT Sandpoint office at 301 North First Avenue, Suite 209B, above Finan McDonald Clothing Company in Sandpoint, Idaho. We welcome assistance with creating and constructing huge, attractive banners and signs that kayaktivists, boaters, and rally participants can hoist from watercraft or the beach and that observers can see at great distances.

Palouse Area Carpool

Gather on Sunday, August 28, by 6 am for the totem pole blessing or 8 am for the kayaktivist action, in the parking lot beneath the Rosauers sign at 411 North Main Street in Moscow, Idaho. Panhandle Paddle activists could return to the Palouse region by 3 or 4 pm or later that evening, depending on carpooler arrangements.  Please contact WIRT for further information about this shared travel.

Watercraft Rental

Several downtown Sandpoint local businesses can provide rentals of single and tandem/double kayaks, paddle boards, and boats. Please respond to WIRT with your watercraft rental intentions for the event, so we can cover some of this equipment availability and cost for participants.

* Outdoor Experience, 314 North First Avenue, 208-263-6028,

First-come, first served rentals of two single kayaks for two hours ($30) or 24 hours ($45), or of two tandem/double kayaks for two hours ($40) or 24 hours ($55), or of paddle boards for $20 per hour

* Action Water Sports, 100 North First Avenue, 208-255-7100,

Reservable rentals of two single kayaks, two tandem/double kayaks, or paddle boards for $20 per hour or for four hours ($50) or for eight hours ($90), provided with brief instructions before departure

Grassroots Climate Activism Support

Can you donate toward watercraft rental fees or offer boats, gear, or supplies for this event [2]? Could you contribute your inspiring words and/or melodies or delicious snacks and beverages?  Would you drive enthusiastic Panhandle Paddle participants to Sandpoint?  Can your group or organization endorse and/or co-sponsor this demonstration of people power?  Please contact WIRT through any of the enclosed channels, to bolster this community event or assist with our collective expenses.

Peruse the following background information about these opportunities and profusely print and post the attached, color, letter-sized Totem Poles & Kayaks Against Fossil Fuels Flyer.  We eagerly anticipate sharing these experiences with you and your family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers, thankful that regional community members are actively opposing dirty energy extraction and transportation.

Panhandle Paddle Background

Northwesterners have plenty to celebrate about our shared resistance to fossil fuels, as dozens of proposals for new and expanded infrastructure and transportation projects falter and fall [3-5]. Only the Millennium Bulk Terminals coal export facility proposed for Longview remains among six Powder River Basin coal ports once planned in the U.S. for Boardman, Clatskanie, and Coos Bay, Oregon, and Cherry Point, Hoquiam, and Longview, Washington.  Community opposition is mounting against the last of three proposed oil-by-rail terminals on Grays Harbor in Hoquiam, against Shell’s East Gate rail expansion project on March Point near Anacortes, Washington, one of the targets of mid-May 2016 Break Free Pacific Northwest blockades and marches, and against the mammoth Tesoro Savage Vancouver Energy Distribution Terminal at the Port of Vancouver, Washington.

Only a few weeks after high winds during the extreme 2015 fire season scuttled the first Panhandle Paddle, Sandpoint and Spokane area community leaders and activists rejoiced at the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway (BNSF) announcement that the corporation would postpone its August 2014 plans to build by 2018 a second Lake Pend Oreille rail bridge 50 feet west and parallel to the original, current span [6]. On “one of the busiest bottlenecks on Northwest rail lines,” trains now rumble about every 30 minutes on average across the existing 1905 choke-point trestle, upgraded in 2008-09 perhaps to accommodate more fossil fuels rail traffic.  BNSF expected the new, similar, steel and concrete structure to relieve train traffic pressure, to reduce rail bridge and street crossing delays and blockage, and to absorb anticipated growth.  But regional residents and intensive Rising Tide group demonstrations expressed concerns that another train bridge would increase railroad traffic and associated accidents that risk and pollute lives, lands, and waters.  According to BNSF, declines in economic conditions and overall freight volumes, including noticeably fewer fossil fuel shipments, put second bridge construction plans on hold until commodity transport demands rebound.

In late July 2016, greater urgency emerged in the north Idaho campaign to stop westbound coal and oil train traffic across the Lake Pend Oreille rail bridge. While monitoring trains through Sandpoint in early August, WIRT activists noticed bright, noisy BNSF repair vehicles on the tracks around the downtown Bridge Street rail overpass.  From the U.S. Highway 95 Long Bridge, observers have since seen BNSF trucks on the train bridge just west of the overarching trestle section, and WIRT outreach table visitors have reported a barge near the rail bridge.  A local August 4 article disclosed that an “increase in stalled trains in the last several weeks…[is] a consequence of increased railway repairs and upgrades…  Last Thursday, [July 28],…inspection crews found a crack in the rail bridge across Lake Pend Oreille.  Repairs require trains to be stacked until early the next morning…for the next few weeks.” [7]

The recently discovered crack in the 4800-foot rail bridge across the lately earthquake-prone, fifth deepest lake in the U.S. is not the only dilapidation of railroad infrastructure in the Clark Fork/Pend Oreille rivers watershed, as revealed by a November 2015 report by Waterkeeper Alliance (including local Lake Pend Oreille Waterkeeper), Riverkeeper, and ForestEthics (now called Stand):

“On a rail bridge crossing Trestle Creek, a number of concrete supports show signs of deterioration. Trestle Creek, a tributary of Lake Pend Oreille, is best known for its superb bull trout habitat, a threatened species protected by the Endangered Species Act.

A bridge that crosses Sand Creek, a tributary of Lake Pend Oreille and the associated Pend Oreille River, has a foundation that appears slumped and cracked. The Sand Creek Bridge bisects two marinas and is adjacent to the most popular and frequented swim beach on the lake [in downtown Sandpoint].” [8, 9]

Regardless, unit and mixed freight trains continue to haul oil, coal, and other hazardous materials over these aging bridges. Volatile Alberta tar sands and Bakken shale oil trains threaten explosive derailment fires with every rail bridge passage.  Heavy Powder River Basin coal trains shed an average of 109 pounds of coal dust – more when their rain-soaked cars drain from bottom weep holes – directly into Lake Pend Oreille.  Random WIRT train monitoring over the last year has counted two to three dozen westbound BNSF coal and oil trains per week traversing north Idaho.

Despite the incredible risks that climate-wrecking fossil fuel loads using deteriorating rail infrastructure daily impose on inland Northwesterners, some elected officials and their constituents dismiss, if not attempt to repress, these citizen concerns. Encouraged by WIRT and allies, a local author and historian questioned an Idaho Congressional delegate about climate change and Panhandle coal and oil trains during his recent Sandpoint visit.  The U.S. Representative denied the human role in climate change.  When the activist “began asking about oil and coal trains passing through Sandpoint, the crowd began to boo her, prompting Labrador to tell them to ‘be respectful of her, even though she has been very rude to me.’” [10]

Sandpoint Epicenter of Crucial Actions

In the mountain lake valley that unleashed the powerful Lake Missoula glacial flood waters across the Northwest, from northern Idaho through eastern Washington to the Columbia and Willamette River basins, activists could not find a more critical industry bottleneck. In the Idaho Panhandle, all Northwest coast-bound fossil fuel trains converge and increase risks to rail line communities.  Montana Rail Link and Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway carry and spew coal along Montana and Idaho Highways 200 and the northeast shores of Lake Pend Oreille, originating in the Powder River Basin in northern Wyoming and southeastern Montana.  BNSF also hauls volatile, fracked, crude oil close to U.S Highway 2 in Montana and Idaho, from the Bakken shale fields of northwestern North Dakota and northeastern Montana, to Bonners Ferry, 30 miles north of Sandpoint.  Interweaving and paralleling these BNSF tracks, the Union Pacific Railroad transports equally explosive dilbit (diluted bitumen from tar sands) near U.S. Highway 95, from northern Alberta, over the continental divide (where one of these trains wrecked during winter 2015), across southeastern British Columbia into the United States near Eastport, Idaho, and south through Bonners Ferry and Sandpoint.

All fossil fuel trains traveling across the four-state Northwest to expanding and emerging refineries and export facilities in British Columbia, Washington, and Oregon must file through the “Funnel,” the conjunction of these three rail lines in downtown Sandpoint and through Spokane, 75 miles to the southwest. Sandpoint, the Lake Pend Oreille and Dover rail bridges, and downtown Spokane all stand as challenging bottlenecks before dirty energy trains fan out down track, like the glacial Lake Missoula floods across the eastern Washington scablands and the Columbia River Gorge.

Among the thousands of Panhandle residents who understand and denounce the dangers of extreme energy transport through cherished places, we together hold the capacity to greet every one of these coal and oil trains with resistance. Until such diligence arises, WIRT gratefully anticipates a modest, bridge-focused, land- and water-based, August 28 display of regional opposition to dirty energy corporations invading wild and rural lands and waters with their tar sands, oil, and coal exploits and subsequent climate contamination.

[1] Totem Poles and Kayaks Against Fossil Fuels: Lummi Visit Sandpoint, August 22, 2016 Wild Idaho Rising Tide

[2] Support WIRT, Wild Idaho Rising Tide EverButton

[3] The Thin Green Line Is Stopping Coal and Oil in Their Tracks, August 13, 2015 Sightline Institute

[4] Fossil Fuel Connections, 2015-16 Evergreen State College course: Resource Rebels: Environmental Justice Movements Building Hope

[5] Only Five Fossil Fuel Proposals Remain, July 12, 2016 Washington Environmental Council

[6] Plans for Second Rail Bridge across Lake Pend Oreille Put on Hold, September 16, 2015 Spokesman Review

[7] BNSF Repairs Underway, August 4, 2016 Sandpoint Reader

[8] Deadly Crossing: Neglected Bridges and Exploding Oil Trains, November 10, 2015 Waterkeeper Alliance, Riverkeeper, and ForestEthics

[9] Deadly Crossing: Neglected Bridges and Exploding Oil Trains, June 7, 2016 Waterkeeper Alliance video

[10] U.S. Representative Labrador Visits Sandpoint, August 18, 2016 Sandpoint Reader

4 thoughts on “Totem Poles & Kayaks Against Fossil Fuels: Second Panhandle Paddle

  1. Pingback: Third Panhandle Paddle | Wild Idaho Rising Tide

  2. Pingback: Fifth Panhandle Paddle | Wild Idaho Rising Tide

  3. Pingback: Sixth Panhandle Paddle | Wild Idaho Rising Tide

  4. Pingback: Seventh Panhandle Paddle | Wild Idaho Rising Tide

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