Lake Bridge Comment Period, Moscow WIRT Meeting & Film, Seventh WIRT Celebration

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February 26: BNSF Lake Bridge Permit Application Release

On Monday, February 26, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Idaho Department of Lands (IDL) released for mere, 30-day, public review Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway’s (BNSF) joint application to construct a “2.2-mile-long, second, mainline track west of the existing, BNSF mainline, to connect the North Algoma Siding track (MP 5.1) south of Sandpoint, to the Sandpoint Junction switch (MP 2.9), where the BNSF and the Montana Rail Link (MRL) mainlines converge in Sandpoint…[The] applicant proposes to start construction in the fall of 2018.  The permit would authorize construction for a period of five years,” including rail bridges over Sand Creek and almost one mile over Lake Pend Oreille [1].

The City of Sandpoint, bigger green, organizational partners, coal/oil train/terminal opposition network, local, #No2ndBridge group, Wild Idaho Rising Tide (WIRT), and allied activists are coordinating responses and will send comment suggestions soon, continuing frontline, second BNSF lake bridge vigilance and resistance commenced in August 2014.  “The second rail bridge is likely to be a contentious proposal within Sandpoint.  BNSF officials say the second bridge will help alleviate wait times caused by rail traffic in town.  However, with train traffic estimated to double in the area by 2035, Sandpoint officials and conservation activists worry the convenience carries a higher risk of a disastrous accident.” [2]  “The bridge proposal has drawn the opposition of Wild Idaho Rising Tide, which contends the span will ultimately exacerbate climate change, because it will facilitate the trade of domestic coal and oil products.” [3]  Although the “Port of Vancouver and Vancouver Energy, which wanted to build the nation’s largest rail-to-marine, oil terminal at the port, mutually agreed to end the company’s lease on Wednesday, [February 28,] a month early,” “an estimated 58 trains use the BNSF rail line per day.  It’s expected by 2035, that number will increase to 114 trains daily, according to a [Spokane] city report.” [4, 5]

Before sending your more thorough, written comments addressing the application for and myriad impacts of this expansion of the Northwest pipeline-on-wheels over the fifth deepest U.S. lake, please demand from the Army Corps and IDL a comment period extension of 90 days, public hearings, and a full environmental impact statement.  Alongside diverse, citizen stakeholders, many indigenous, federal, and state agencies involved in or affected by this decision (U.S Army Corps of Engineers, Coast Guard, and Fish and Wildlife Service, Idaho departments of Environmental Quality, Historic Preservation, Lands, and Water Resources, and the Coeur d’Alene, Kalispel, Kootenai, Salish, and Spokane tribes) require additional opportunities, time, and documentation to responsibly share information and analyze this largest construction project in decades on and near Lake Pend Oreille and the hundreds of pages of the BNSF application [6].

The decision whether to issue a permit will be based on an evaluation of the probable impact, including cumulative impacts, of the proposed activity on the public interest.  This decision will reflect the national concern for both protection and utilization of important resources…Comments are used in the preparation of an environmental assessment [the current, inadequate, Army Corps choice] and/or an environmental impact statement, pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act.  Comments are also used to determine the need for a public hearing, and to determine the overall public interest in the proposed activity.

…Any person may request in writing, within the comment period specified in this notice, that a public hearing is held to consider this proposed activity.  Requests for a public hearing shall state specific reasons for holding a public hearing.  A request may be denied if substantive reasons for holding a hearing are not provided or if there is otherwise no valid interest to be served.

…Interested parties are invited to provide comments on the proposed activity, which will become a part of the record and will be considered in the final decision.  Please mail all comments to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Walla Walla District, Attn: Shane Slate, Coeur d’Alene Regulatory Office, 1910 Northwest Boulevard, Suite 210, Coeur d’Alene, Idaho 83814-2676, or email NWW_BNSF_Pendoreille@usace.army.mil.  Comments should be received no later than the comment due date of March 28, 2018, as indicated on this notice, to receive consideration. [1]

Issuing a separate, public notice, the Idaho Department of Lands is also holding a public comment period on the proposed project and associated materials, ending on March 30, 2018 [7].  Send your message encouraging BNSF permit denial to comments@idl.idaho.gov or through the IDL website.  Citizens can also share their concerns with the U.S Coast Guard, charged with issuing or denying permits for bridges and causeways in or over navigable waters of the United States, and overseeing compliance with National Historic Preservation Act and Endangered Species Act consultation, for the proposed bridge projects over Sand Creek and Lake Pend Oreille.  But the Army Corps and Coast Guard cannot grant permits until the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality (IDEQ) evaluates whether to issue, waive, or deny Clean Water Act water quality certification for discharge of project dredge and fill material, within 60 days or, by IDEQ-requested extension, longer.  Please see the Army Corps public notice about this project, for pertinent agency contact information [1].

Besides contributing written comments, and hopefully oral testimony, toward the lopsided and thus oppressive, power dynamics of these “public participation processes,” WIRT and regional allies are planning public information sessions, targeted protests, and a summer, #No2ndBridge, direct action camp, to catalyze further resistance to this industrial invasion of crucial, home waters and wetlands. Continue reading

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