WIRT Lawsuit & Petition Against State Railroad Bridges Permit

On September 4, Wild Idaho Rising Tide (WIRT) filed an amended notice of appeal and petition for judicial review of the June 21 approval of a state, non-navigational, encroachment permit for construction of four proposed, permanent and temporary, Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway (BNSF) bridges and associated fill in the navigable waters of Sand Creek and Lake Pend Oreille near Sandpoint, Idaho [1]. The notice requested county court analysis of the entire, Idaho Department of Lands (IDL), administrative record, including public and agency comments, hearing testimony and proceedings, and the BNSF application.  Local attorney Wendy Earle electronically filed the petition and her notice of appearance on WIRT’s behalf,  replacing and expanding the initial notice of appeal hand-delivered pro se (without lawyer representation) with a $500 bond to the Idaho First Judicial District Court in Bonner County, on July 20 [2-5].  The lawsuit names as respondents IDL director David Groeschl, IDL-appointed, May 23 hearings officer Chris Bromley, and the Idaho Board of Land Commissioners.  Copies of the documents were also sent via email to Idaho attorney general (AG) Lawrence Wasden, chief of the AG’s natural resources division Darrell Early, and the respondents’ lawyers, deputy AGs Angela Kaufmann and Joy Vega in Boise, who filed a notice of appearance on August 20.

In an opening procedural overview, the notice describes a filing time extension granted by First District Judge Barbara Buchanan, and notes that petitioner WIRT has exhausted all administrative remedies. It also references the hearing officer’s preliminary order and IDL director’s final order issuing the BNSF permit and culminating from two recorded, May 23, administrative hearings held by IDL and the land board in Ponderay and Sandpoint.  Because IDL failed to properly prepare and publish on the IDL website the final transcripts of those sessions with the legally required, attested signature of the hearings reporter, WIRT sent a request for the official transcripts and pertinent, public records, and mailed a $100 deposit for estimated copying fees to IDL [6].  We also downloaded and printed the full record, including the BNSF application and state documents, from the IDL website.

The notice’s overview of law and facts asserts that petitioner WIRT collectively has standing as an aggrieved party appealing and seeking judicial review of these state actions, because its board members and multiple, WIRT and associated members requested and appeared at the formal hearings and offered comments for the public record. Of 31 citizens who testified at the morning and evening hearings, 21 spoke in opposition to the BNSF rail bridge expansion project, and ten supported it.  As an Idaho non-profit organization, who applied for state incorporation on Friday, August 31, exactly seven years and five months after formation as a climate activist collective, WIRT works to protect environmental values such as water and air quality and habitat for fish and wildlife like threatened bull trout.  WIRT members are concerned about train derailment dangers and environmental health and safety issues arising from increased fossil fuel and hazardous materials infrastructure and traffic capacity, as we reside, recreate, and enjoy the aesthetic qualities of Lake Pend Oreille and Sand Creek.  Some WIRT activists, as registered tribal members of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai bands off the Flathead Reservation, honor the 1859 Stevens treaty granting reserved fishing rights in the Clark Fork River that flows into the lake.  Considering all of these circumstances, approval of the BNSF encroachment permit violates WIRT’s substantial rights and would inflict actual and direct harm, if the state does not vacate this challenged, permit decision. Continue reading