#No2ndBridge Protest #3 & Extended Comments

#No2ndBridge Protest #3

At the third of many likely demonstrations, please join Wild Idaho Rising Tide (WIRT) and indigenous and climate activists for regional resistance to Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) Railway expansion of its fossil fuels and hazardous materials pipelines-on-rails tracks and two temporary and three permanent bridges across the recreation, tourism, and vacation destination town of Sandpoint, Idaho,  through the downtown marinas, hotels, restaurants, and shops along Sand Creek, and almost one mile over Idaho’s largest, deepest, forested mountain lake, Pend Oreille, home waters of the Kalispel and inland Northwest tribes and the critical habitat of threatened bull trout.  Bring protest signs, banners, voices, and snacks to share, along with the inspiration of speakers, drums, and prayers among fellow, water protectors and concerned, community members, at this frontline, Dog Beach Park rally southeast of Sandpoint, at 1 pm on Sunday, April 28.

#No2ndBridge Extended Comments

Perhaps due to the procedural mistakes of the lead, federal agency overseeing BNSF bridge permits and project analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), over 2,300 written and spoken comments opposing the project and demanding better environmental review, and WIRT and allied requests to extend the comment period to 90 days, the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) re-opened for another 30 days (77 total days), until 9 pm on Wednesday, May 1, your potentially last chance to comment on BNSF’s insufficient, draft environmental assessment (EA) of benefits and harms resulting from BNSF’s Sandpoint Junction Connector project [1].  Although NEPA guidelines suggest preparation of concise EAs with no more than 10 to 15 pages, the length alone of the current, BNSF/Jacobs Engineering/U.S. Coast Guard, draft EA, with 116 pages and 12 appendices, indicates that an environmental impact statement (EIS) is needed for such a complex, flawed proposal with significant, but difficult to determine, environmental effects [2, 3].

For further information and comment suggestion resources to assist your letter, see the enclosed links and continually updated posts on the WIRT facebook and website pages [4-6].  Please search for USCG-2018-1085 at the federal, e-rulemaking portal (http://www.regulations.gov), and review your project issue(s) of concern among the draft EA documents.  With your individually unique comments addressing draft EA deficiencies and offering counter-facts, provide personal reasons and affiliations for your project-affected interests and your specific, substantive objections to BNSF project-inflicted harms.  Through the “Comment Now” button, respectfully ask the Coast Guard for:

1) A draft EA comment period extension to 120 days, to better engage seasonal and summer residents and diverse stakeholders,

2) Public, draft EA, and EIS scoping hearings, involving all pertinent agencies, organizations, and citizens, held in the most impacted city, Sandpoint,

3) Core samples and analysis of pollution in the lake bed, railroad right-of-way/easement,

4) Broader considerations of alternative, bridge and location designs and options, especially a rail route off the lake,

5) A more scientifically rigorous, unbiased, independent (not BNSF-contracted), full environmental impact study and statement that comprehensively evaluate the significant, direct, indirect, and cumulative project impacts, and

6) Inclusion of your remarks and accompanying material, supporting an EIS, not a finding of no significant impact (FONSI) and final EA, in the public record and final decisions for docket USCG-2018-1085.

Besides writing and posting your comments to USCG at Regulations.gov, also send them to the following agency officials of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (regulating dredge and fill discharges and wetland impacts through a pending permit), the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality (overseeing project water quality impacts with a Clean Water Act section 401 certification issued on September 21, 2018), and the Idaho Department of Lands (rubberstamping lake bed and water impacts with an encroachment permit granted on June 21, 2018, and challenged by WIRT, but dismissed on statutory standing grounds by Idaho district courts).

If you and your friends and family cannot find time to write to the Coast Guard and other agencies, we encourage you to sign with your comments WIRT’s Petition to Deny and Revoke Permits for the BNSF Sandpoint Junction Connector Project, which lists significant impacts of railroad bridge construction and operation on multiple, pertinent factors [7].  We will send petition signatures and remarks posted by midnight on April 30 to the Coast Guard et al.

#No2ndBridge Background & Context

On May 1, 2017, the same day as BNSF commenced two preliminary, four-month, pile load tests in its Dog Beach Park right-of-way easement, for a proposed, parallel rail bridge and temporary work span that would install and remove 1000 piles in train-spewed, lake bed, coal deposits, it wrecked a corn train on the straight rail line in front of the historic, Valley Vista Ranch barn on Cocolalla Flats, 13 rail miles west of Sandpoint.  An eastbound, empty, unit, coal train had derailed between Ponderay and Kootenai, only three rail miles east of the lake rail bridge, on March 17, two days after a mud slide sent another grain train down a steep slope toward a dam outside Moyie Springs, about 35 miles north.  Along with dozens of deaths, injuries, and destruction of Bonner County drivers, passengers, pedestrians, family pets, and vehicles over the last 20 years, the U.S. Highway 95-damaging incident near Cocolalla joined five major train spills and collisions with vehicles, one deadly, between February and August 2017, within 41 miles of the derailment-vulnerable, lake railroad bridge planned for three- to five-year construction, risky, bi-directional train passage, and eventual replacement of the present, century-old bridge [8].  These northern Idaho and western Montana, railroad snafus polluted the Clark Fork-Pend Oreille River watershed with grain, coal, and track washout-released, smelter slurry, and dumped additional coal and imposed fire hazards from combusted coal on adjacent communities, through damaging and delayed, wreck clean-ups.  Every day, north Idaho endures about 60 BNSF, Montana Rail Link, and Union Pacific trains, including growing numbers of unit trains hauling volatile, Alberta tar sands, fracked, Bakken crude oil, and Powder River Basin coal blown or rain-leaked from empty and loaded cars, all recklessly and cumulatively risking and harming community lives, livelihoods, lands, water, air, and climate.

The WIRT and allied #No2ndBridge Protest #3 acknowledges and escalates the extensive opposition to the $100 million-plus, Sandpoint Junction Connector project since that May Day two years ago, evident in thousands of pages of public comments and litigation records and hours of hearing testimony to local, state, and federal agencies and courts, describing BNSF’s ongoing degradation and project-increasing endangerment of the health and safety of rail corridor workers, residents, visitors, and wildlife with toxic coal dust and diesel emissions, train traffic, pollution, noise, and accidents, and blocked, emergency response and other vehicle travel at rail crossings.  Collectively over the last two years and during most of this passing decade, we have considered, researched, and publicly discussed and objected to the significant, adverse, and cumulative impacts of fossil fuel transportation and its railroad infrastructure use, expansion, and deterioration.

Just a cursory examination of the public comments and testimony offered by Northwest citizens and WIRT activists, for deliberation of a state, lake bed encroachment permit and a federal, draft environment assessment for the BNSF bridges proposal, reveals concerns and controversy about project construction and operation effects on regional air, environmental, and scenic qualities, lake and aquifer water resources, global climate change, native fish, birds, and wildlife and their aquatic, wetland, and shoreline habitats, indigenous fishing, hunting, and traveling treaty rights and cultures, bridge design and emergency preparedness for earthquake and derailment catastrophes, historic, business, and residence properties, values, opportunities, and economic interests, public lands and waters access, navigation, and experiences, and stakeholder participation in project decisions.

Meanwhile, the polluting, disaster-threatening, bribing, bullying railroad company has been schmoozing the north Idaho community for years, with ads, speaking engagements, emergency response exercises, a Sandpoint off-road ambulance and bike/pedestrian path tunnel, a Rathdrum fire house, a Bonners Ferry ice rink, food bank contributions, tours for Idaho politicians and the new governor, etc.  While minimizing and expediting negligent, “environmental” reviews and public input and permitting processes, and avoiding scientific studies of a second rail bridges scheme that should not require so much deceptive generosity, BNSF has coerced citizens, elected officials, tribal leaders, and first responder and regulatory agencies into detrimental acceptance and exacerbation of industry abuses of discounted, rural and urban, rail-line communities.  Like the railroad industry hauling its coal, oil, gas, and tar sands and obviously drawing from the same playbook, offering bribery opportunities to buy support for its proposal [9],

“The fossil fuel industry regularly deploys manipulative and dishonest tactics when engaging with communities of color, often working to co-opt the respect and authority of minority-led groups to serve corporate goals…[Tactics include] denying the reality of air and water pollution, or even shifting the blame for this pollution to those disadvantaged communities that are suffering the impacts of fossil fuel projects.  ‘One of the most duplicitous strategies of the fossil fuel industry is manipulating messaging which feigns concern for the welfare of low income and communities of color.  This is a self-serving effort to maintain their wealth.’  …[The report] warns colleagues and members of the common practice of ‘pacifying or co-opting community leaders and organizations’ through financial support…Research found countless examples of fossil fuel companies leveraging grants to weaken communities’ resistance to various projects that would ultimately burden local residents.

…These tactics can only work if groups…aren’t aware of the true, human and economic costs of fossil fuel exploitation, or if they’re not willing to push back against it.  The report describes at length the health and financial harms that coal, oil, and gas bring to the communities they cross, and how these harms are disproportionately impacting people of color [and rural communities].  The authors also include positive examples of how state and local,…frontline communities have resisted and fought for clean energy solutions that would bring wide-reaching benefits.  These cases…show how local leaders ‘see these machinations for what they are, resist, and lead in the transition to a new, sustainable, and just energy economy’” [10].

In local instances, BNSF gave the City of Sandpoint a $7500 grant, the same amount that WIRT’s attorney gifted us for her pro-bono or reduced-fee services, to cover up the wreckage of a February 11, 2019 fire that destroyed two historic, century-old, downtown buildings at the corner of First Avenue and Bridge Street that links downtown to City Beach Park and Lake Pend Oreille, under proposed, BNSF rail bridge expansion [11, 12].  The blaze in the since condemned, investigated, and partially demolished structures warned some observers of potential oil train infernos and Bridge Street closure during railroad bridge construction.  The exact cause of the early morning fire in a closed business remains undetermined, but was ruled an accident, not arson.  And while north Idaho cannot pick (but should reject) its potentially explosive and/or lethally gaseous poison from among possibly devastating, derailed freight, Alberta tar sands, anhydrous ammonia, Bakken crude, butane, ethanol, natural gas, and propane all travel by train almost one mile over the 42 percent of Columbia River basin waters flowing under the Lake Pend Oreille railroad bridge.  Can regional, emergency responders, questionably trained by BNSF on rail hazmat incidents, save the lives of a lakeside town like Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, if BNSF’s railroad bridges are or become tar sands crude pipelines in disguise, for which they have not staged drills to counter an uncontrollable, sinking, flammable spill [13]?  The ongoing, basic, human rights violations, inherent in the unjust risks, threats, pollution, and industrial malaise of BNSF and global capitalism, will never be reasonably safe or sustainable for north Idahoans.

Even while the Trump administration authorizes transportation of natural gas by rail through north Idaho and nationwide, bomb train blast zones, to override pipeline rejections by states and benefit the dying, desperate fossil fuel industry and its pipeline-on-rails facilitators [14], other waterside communities along another possible, BNSF, tar sands-by-train route entering northwestern Washington from Canada are “campaigning for rail relocation off the waterfront,…[besides a] horrendous amount of training, education, and awareness,…making sure that we have the funding in place so that [White Rock], Surrey, the [B.C.] province, and [the Canadian] federal government can work together, in order to move forward with rail relocation…” [15].  During this fortuitous opportunity for regional infrastructure reconfiguration, Sandpoint and other area cities could likewise request BNSF re-routing of train traffic off its present and proposed, Lake Pend Oreille bridges.

Other Northwest comrades are similarly rising up to expose the climate and environmental hazards of hydrocarbon trains and their ineffective regulation by local and state governments and the fossil fuels and railroad industries.  On Easter and Earth Day, Sunday and Monday, April 21 and 22, Extinction Rebellion activists in Portland, which has passed resolutions against further fossil fuel infrastructure, blocked BNSF, tar sands train tracks at Oregon’s increasingly largest, crude oil export terminal, Zenith Energy, “the poster child for governmental inability to act in the face of unbelievably arrogant and globally deadly, fossil fuel company behavior” [16].  With dirt, straw, plants, water, and a shed, they established, occupied, and prepared to stay as long as necessary at a Victory Over Fossil Fuels Garden on and beside the rail line, near parked rail cars full of Canadian tar sands oil that regularly, dangerously travel through Portland neighborhoods.  Portland police removed eleven protesters from the tracks, and arrested them on that exemplary Earth Day.  WIRT urges you to pitch in toward their $1000, individual bails, through the website of the tar sands pipeline valve turners and associates [17].

WIRT activists deeply appreciate the warm hospitality of our co-hosts and audiences for the #No2ndBridge Regional Talks, everyone who has shared ideas, insights, and information and expressed earnest concerns and/or opposition to this railroad industry expansion through public comments and hearing testimony, and our stalwart supporters who have encouraged and funded our litigation efforts during a grueling eight months culminating in WIRT’s eighth annual celebrations.  We eagerly and gratefully anticipate your further participation and the outcomes of this decisive, project review phase.  Please join us for the April 28 protest, May 1 comment deadline, and in contributing toward our legal funds [18].  A thousand thanks to each of you!

#No2ndBridge Agency Contacts

Steven Fischer, district bridge manager, U.S. Coast Guard District 13, 915 Second Avenue, Room 3510, Seattle, WA 98174, D13-PF-D13BRIDGES@uscg.mil, 206-220-7282

Shane Slate, project manager, Coeur d’Alene Regulatory Office, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Walla Walla District, 1910 Northwest Boulevard, Suite 210, Coeur d’Alene, ID 83814-2676, NWW_BNSF_Pendoreille@usace.army.mil or shane.p.slate@usace.army.mil, 208-433-4474, 208-667-9790

June Bergquist, regional water quality compliance officer, Coeur d’Alene Regional Office, Idaho Department of Environmental Quality, 2110 Ironwood Parkway, Coeur d’Alene, ID 83814, june.bergquist@deq.idaho.gov, 208-666-4605, 208-666-6838

Tom Fleer, manager, and Amidy Fuson, senior resource specialist, Pend Oreille Lake Supervisory Area, Idaho Department of Lands, 2550 Highway 2 West, Sandpoint, ID 83864-7305, TFleer@idl.idaho.gov, AFuson@idl.idaho.gov, comments@idl.idaho.gov, 208-263-5104

[1] COAST GUARD #No2ndBridge COMMENT PERIOD EXTENDED TO MAY 1…, April 4, 2019 Wild Idaho Rising Tide

[2] “A LENGTHY EA INDICATES THAT AN EIS IS NEEDED!” April 5, 2019 Wild Idaho Rising Tide

[3] NEPA’s Forty Most Asked Questions, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

[4] Railroad Bridges Hearings, Comments, and Updates, February 23, 2019 Wild Idaho Rising Tide

[5] BNSF Bridges Draft EA Comment and Testimony Resources, March 12, 2019 Wild Idaho Rising Tide

[6] #No2ndBridge Comment Deadline, Hearings, Petitions, and 8th WIRT Celebrations, March 22, 2019 Wild Idaho Rising Tide

[7] Petition to Deny and Revoke Permits for the BNSF Sandpoint Junction Connector Project, September 30, 2018 Wild Idaho Rising Tide

[8] Fifth Anniversary Coal Train Protests, November 8, 2017 Wild Idaho Rising Tide

[9] Jordan Cove LNG Opens Community Grants, April 8, 2019 KCBY

[10] NAACP Reveals Tactics Fossil Fuel Industry Uses to Manipulate Communities of Color, April 1, 2019 DeSmogBlog

[11] On February 6, the U.S. Coast Guard released its draft environmental assessment…, April 21, 2019 Wild Idaho Rising Tide

[12] Downtown Sandpoint Fire Damage 2019, April 22, 2019 Wild Idaho Rising Tide

[13] Are Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) Railway’s proposed, second railroad bridges…, April 14, 2019 Wild Idaho Rising Tide

[14] Trump Signs Order to Allow Natural Gas on Freight Rail, Igniting ‘Bomb Train’ Fears, April 11, 2019 Consumer Affairs

[15] Spectre of Lac-Megantic Raised as White Rock Council Calls for Report on Rail Emergency Protocol, April 23, 2019 Hope Standard

[16] Extinction Rebellion Portland – XR PDX

[17] Shut It Down – Climate Direct Action

[18] Donate to WIRT, Wild Idaho Rising Tide EverButton

We welcome your comments...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s