Railroad Bridges Hearings, Comments, & Updates

On Friday, February 8, news spread of the U.S. Coast Guard release of a draft environmental assessment (EA), not a more scientifically-rigorous, community-preferred, Sandpoint City Council-requested, draft environmental impact statement (EIS) with route and design alternatives, on Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) Railway’s proposed construction of second (in order to replace the first) railroad bridges across Sand Creek and almost one mile over Lake Pend Oreille, in Sandpoint and Bonner County, Idaho [1-3]. On the same day, district judge John Judge heard oral arguments by phone, on BNSF and state of Idaho motions to dismiss Wild Idaho Rising Tide’s (WIRT) seven-month, #No2ndBridge lawsuit, on standing, jurisdictional, and procedural issues, not the strong, meritorious arguments of our petition for judicial review of an Idaho Department of Lands (IDL)/Idaho State Board of Land Commissioners encroachment permit for BNSF’s bridge expansion [4].  The judge did not immediately rule on these complex, dispositive and other motions, responses, replies, and objections, but has been deliberating and writing his difficult, landmark decision on Lake Protection Act and Idaho standing laws, during recent and coming weeks.  As activists cautiously participating in public processes, we remain hopeful, and acquired greater respect for judge John Judge at the hearing attended by two WIRT board members.

Like the north Idaho community, WIRT activists have since been devastated by intense, sub-zero, northeast winds gusting to 50 mph and spewing railroaded coal into the lake and neighborhood tree falls during the February 8-10 weekend, deep, engulfing snows throughout the following week, and a nearby, downtown Sandpoint fire on Monday morning, February 11 [5]. Despite firefighters from several regional districts working amid snowfall, 11-degree temperatures, and aerial hose spray that coated them with ice, the fire inflicted smoke and water damages on a church and destroyed and displaced six local, small businesses (three restaurants, a pub, a salon, and a tattoo/piercing shop) in a couple of century-old buildings, at the corner of Bridge Street and First Avenue in Sandpoint’s historic district.

These Sandpoint City Beach area businesses and surrounding residences most directly, significantly impacted by BNSF’s corporate, infrastructure expansion scheme continue to suffer fire losses and/or travel restrictions since the incident at the site of one of WIRT’s most recent direct actions during the Fourth Panhandle Paddle, when Occupy Spokane and WIRT activists spotlighted #No2ndBridge, anti-fossil fuels, and other environmental, climate, and social justice messages outside China Kitchen on September 8, 2018 [6]. Sandpoint police and Idaho fire marshals are investigating the cause and origin location of the fire, and a city-hired engineer condemned both stability-compromised structures, due to fire damages estimated at $4 to $7 million.  The Sandpoint, fossil fuels frontline also lost an indigenous art store and Italian restaurant to city building condemnation last September.

Frustrated with lawsuit financial and communication oppression and limited community responses to ongoing, WIRT pleas for support of litigation expenses, we are sending this recently rare, action alert to our thousand regional contacts, about these and other situations requiring public input, drawn from WIRT’s primary modes of outreach communication, our weekly, Climate Justice Forum radio program and numerous facebook posts over the last few months.  In forthcoming newsletters, we plan to further provide court case updates and requests for your contributions toward our legal battles, and to announce #No2ndBridge presentations on March 5, 6, 8, and 9, respectively in Missoula, Moscow, Sandpoint, and Spokane.

Coast Guard Draft EA Release

As the lead, federal agency regulating proposed, BNSF infrastructure expansion via three new, permanent, rail bridges and two temporary, construction spans in the Sandpoint area, the Seattle-based, U.S. Coast Guard (USCG), District 13 office is accepting public input on the February 6, 2019, draft environmental assessment (EA) for the project, written by BNSF and contracted, Jacobs Engineering staff (EA page 111) [7]. USCG will host two public hearings at 8 am and 6 pm on March 13, at the Ponderay Events Center, 401 Bonner Mall Way in Ponderay, but not in more project-impacted Sandpoint, and will hold a comment period until 8:59 pm Pacific time on March 25, according to its Federal Register notice.  Please see the notice of availability of and the draft EA on the BNSF Sandpoint Junction Connector project, docket USCG-2018-1085, along with 12 supporting appendices offering bridge permit drawings, site photographs, a wetlands and waters of the U.S. delineation report and impact maps, hydraulic and visual impact analyses, a biological assessment, state historic preservation office and other state and local agency letters, the Pend Oreille basin emergency response plan and action reports, and the IDL encroachment permit currently litigated by WIRT. Continue reading