BNSF Bridges Coast Guard EA Protest


BNSF Bridges Coast Guard EA Protest

Saturday, September 21, 1 pm Global Climate Strike, 2 pm #No2ndBridge March

East Farmin Park, Third and Main Streets, Sandpoint

Sandpoint Monthly WIRT Meeting

7 pm Wednesday, September 18

Gardenia Center, 400 Church Street, Sandpoint

On Thursday, September 5, the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) issued a finding of no significant impact (FONSI) and final environmental assessment (EA), instead of a recommendation for a lengthier, more thorough environmental impact statement (EIS), essentially approving Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) Railway’s proposal to build parallel, second (and consequently later third) bridges across Sand Creek and Lake Pend Oreille in northern Idaho.  BNSF’s Sandpoint Junction Connector project would also double 2.2 miles of rail line through downtown Sandpoint, across Bridge Street, and almost one mile over Idaho’s  148-square-mile largest, 1,150-foot deepest lake, home to a variety of angler-prized fish and federally-listed, threatened bull trout and its critical habitat, and the heart of Bonner County’s recreation and tourism economy.

Thanks to thousands of regional citizens who diligently participated in state and federal hearings and comment periods, especially the extended, Coast Guard, draft EA, public input process that ended on May 1, several involved organizations can successfully insist on a widely requested, full, independent EIS study of this BNSF Railway bridge expansion.  Among ongoing, project resistance work since Wild Idaho Rising Tide’s (WIRT) #No2ndBridge Protest #3 in late April, WIRT activists, board members, and allied groups have been scheming a Sandpoint area march to protest the BNSF-pushed, USCG decision to sidestep examination of the environmental and socioeconomic implications of BNSF’s proposed railroad bridges, with a less scientifically rigorous, final EA [1].

Now, more than ever, WIRT needs your support and presence on the north Idaho, fossil fuels frontline!  Join fellow, #No2ndBridge, and community activists at two events this week: 1) the Sandpoint, monthly, WIRT meeting and sign creation party at 7 pm on Wednesday, September 18, in the Gardenia Center, 400 Church Street in Sandpoint, where participants will share ideas and assistance in coordinating, publicizing, and staging the upcoming march, and 2) the Global Climate Strike and BNSF Bridges Coast Guard EA Protest at 1 pm and 2 pm on Saturday, September 21, at east Farmin Park, Third and Main streets in Sandpoint, where friends and families will gather together to hear rally speakers and music, engage in climate solidarity activities, and march in opposition to climate-wrecking, fossil fuels pipeline-on-rails transportation [2].

Please circulate the website-linked, PDF version of the BNSF Bridges Coast Guard EA Protest Flyer, check the WIRT facebook and website pages for further event information and recent, #No2ndBridge issue updates, notify and invite your contacts, and bring protest signs, banners, and enthusiasm to these climate action opportunities [3].  Consider contributing physically and/or fiscally to this #No2ndBridge and WIRT campaigns confronting the fossil fuel sources of climate change, online through the Donate to WIRT button or by mail to our Sandpoint and Moscow mailing addresses [4].  Thanks!

Recent #No2ndBridge Issue Updates

(Draft Compiled from WIRT Facebook Posts)

COAST GUARD APPROVAL: On the one-year anniversary of Wild Idaho Rising Tide’s (WIRT) filing of an amended petition for judicial review of the Idaho Department of Lands encroachment permit for BNSF’s proposed bridge expansions in Lake Pend Oreille and Sand Creek, near Sandpoint, the U.S. Coast Guard announced the next-day, Thursday, September 5 release of its final EA and FONSI for the Sandpoint Junction Connector project [5-7].

With a superficial, seven-page notice of availability, signed on August 29, one to five days after WIRT posted upcoming, Fifth Panhandle Paddle events, the brief explanation of the Coast Guard decision both promotes ongoing, industry excuses for BNSF’s $100 million gamble with the regional and global health and safety of air, water, climate, lives, and economies, while ignoring and dismissing myriad, citizen concerns about this railroad invasion of an interior Northwest, aquatic ecosystem that provides 42 percent of Columbia Basin waters.

Upon finding the Wednesday morning, September 4, email alert from the Federal Register search subscription, WIRT forwarded the not unexpected information to several dozen select, regional media, allied group, board member, colleague, and attorney contacts.  We are reviewing the Coast Guard documents for findings and conclusions appealable in federal court, as we reach out to associates with our intentions to initiate or join litigation.  Justifiable, public outcry against this BNSF scheme has strongly and broadly voiced demands for a full EIS study of the significant, immitigable, cumulative, environmental, and socioeconomic harms imposed by BNSF’s fossil fuels infrastructure construction and operation in Idaho’s largest, deepest lake.

BNSF SITE WORK: On Saturday, September 7, while guiding a West Coast, direct action trainer at the Fifth Panhandle Paddle through the Sandpoint area, fossil fuels pipeline-on-rails frontline, and again on Monday and Thursday, September 9 and12, heartbroken WIRT and allies discovered and photographed dozens huge conifer and deciduous trees cut and piled in the leased, BNSF Railway right-of-way north of Dog Beach Park and east of Serenity Lee Trail [8, 9].

BNSF is aggressively starting on-the-ground work on its Sandpoint Junction Connector project, in the immediate wake of the Thursday, September 5 decision by the Coast Guard, the lead, federal agency regulating the proposal, essentially permitting BNSF bridge expansion in Lake Pend Oreille and Sand Creek. WIRT activists are justifiably alarmed by this crisis and the ongoing destruction of downtown Sandpoint through 2018-19 building condemnations and fires, tree slaughters, and street reconstruction.

On the north Idaho, fossil-fueled, climate change frontline, we doubt that only coincidence scheduled concurrent, BNSF, and City of Sandpoint slaying by contracted workers of more than dozen beautiful trees each at Dog Beach Park and on First Avenue and Cedar Street, several within arms’ and lungs’ reach of WIRT office windows [10, 11]. In the course of American business-as-usual, WIRT and our downtown neighbors lost our closest, decades-old, beloved tree companions on September 5 and 6.   Development feels like war upon the Earth and its inhabitants, as we directly grieve the loss of treasured air and natural resources and serve as on-site, photographic thorns-in-the-side of violently capricious industrialization of precious public places.

LOCAL NEWS: Besides extensive notices of WIRT’s September 6 to 8, weekend, Panhandle Paddle activities [12], both the September 5 Sandpoint Reader [13] and the September 6 Bonner County Daily Bee [14] published local articles about these situations.  More thorough WIRT reports, photos, and #No2ndBridge action alerts are forthcoming, synthesizing WIRT research of public records. To review BNSF project documents and public comments, search for USCG-2018-1085 at Regulations.gov.

“The group is calling for rail line community resistance to Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway’s proposed bridge and track expansion across Lake Pend Oreille, Sand Creek, and downtown Sandpoint.” [12]

“The United States Coast Guard (USCG) has completed a Final Environmental Assessment (FEA) and Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) regarding the proposed [BNSF Railway] second rail bridges over Lake Pend Oreille and Sand Creek, announcing September 4 that those documents will be available to the public September 5…Those with questions can contact USCG district bridge manager Steven Fischer at 206-220-7282.” [13]

“BNSF is mobilizing and is expected to begin upland work on railroad property between Sand Creek and Dog Beach. The work includes constructing site access of U.S. Highway 95 and building temporary and permanent trails that will keep the bike and pedestrian path open during construction.

…Wild Idaho Rising Tide released the following statement: ‘Its brief decision explanation both promotes ongoing, industry excuses for BNSF’s $100 million gamble with the regional and global health and safety of air, water, climate, and economies, while ignoring and dismissing myriad citizen concerns about this railroad invasion of a significant, north Idaho, aquatic ecosystem.’” [14]

REGIONAL NEWS: As covered in several Associated Press articles, BNSF claims that its tracks and average of 60 area trains per day (out of a 79-train capacity) are part of a critical supply chain transporting eastbound and westbound, Amtrak passengers and goods including airplane fuselages, autos, clothing, coal, crude oil, grain, soybeans, and wind turbines [15-21]. It says that the lake bottleneck causes trains, up to one mile long, to backup into Montana and eastern Washington, while waiting to cross the bridge, and delays vehicles blocked by stationary trains at railroad crossings.

While the Coast Guard oversees bridges over navigable waters, Idaho officials regulating lake bed structures granted an encroachment permit in June 2018, which WIRT challenged with a petition for judicial review dismissed in March 2019. Concerned residents, groups, and the Sandpoint mayor voiced concerns about increased train traffic, the risks of crude oil and hazardous materials derailments in the lake and populated areas, and the “effects that this massive expansion of rail infrastructure could have on our lake, our water, and our way of life.” But the Coast Guard says that adding main line bridges would not expand rail traffic volumes, because other single tracks constrain the system. BNSF started preliminary work within a day of the USCG decision announcement.

NO ARMY CORPS PERMIT: Since Monday, September 9, 2019, in the wake of the September 5, U.S. Coast Guard release of the final environmental assessment and finding of no significant impact for BNSF’s proposed fossil fuels pipeline-on-rails bridge expansion, Wild Idaho Rising Tide (WIRT) has been daily contacting Shane Slate (NWW_BNSF_Pendoreille@usace.army.mil, shane.p.slate@usace.army.mil) at the Coeur d’Alene regulatory office of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Walla Walla District, to determine whether his agency has issued a dredge, fill, and wetlands impact permit to BNSF, as required by section 404 of the Clean Water Act (CWA) and other federal laws [22]:

Monday: “Mr Slate, please advise us of the current status and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers review timeline of permit application NWW-2007-01303, for BNSF’s proposed Sandpoint Junction Connector Project. We would like to share with you and request new and emerging information about this project, for which BNSF began clearing vegetation and impacting wetlands last week, September 5 and 6, 2019. Thank you for your timely response(s) to our Monday, September 9, 2019, email, and phone messages.”

Tuesday: “Mr. Slate, we will continue to contact you daily, until we receive your response to our email and phone messages.”

Wednesday: “Ms. Yost, the Corps is continuing to work towards its permit decision related to the discharge of fill material into waters of the U.S. associated with the project. The Corps does not have a set timeline for when it will complete its permit decision. Sincerely, Shane Slate, Regulatory Project Manager”

While searching the Army Corps website, we observed information under a right side bar, “Announcements” section, about several 2019 “Special Public Notices” that could change USACE permitting policies and decisions (besides February and March 2019, EPA and Army revised rules and definitions of “waters of the United States”) [23]:

* July 29, 2019: A Walla Walla District regulatory division change in geographic area of responsibility for field offices within the state of Idaho

* June 18, 2019: Walla Walla regulatory wetland delineation guidance for all wetland delineation reports submitted in Idaho

* June 10, 2019: Biennial update to the National Wetland Plant List for 2018 in the Federal Register

* February 25, 2019: New regulatory guidance for mitigation banks, improving efficiency and consistency in the Corps regulatory program

Recent, WIRT discovery of a March 2019 letter and document from the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality (IDEQ) to other agencies, modifying its “final,” September 2018, CWA section 401 water quality certification for the BNSF project, further compounds this Army Corps permit uncertainty [24].

Predictably, we also found thousands of anti-bridge form letter comments, dated the same day as initial release of the BNSF bridges joint application (February 26, 2018) by USACE and the Idaho Department of Lands (IDL), which the Idaho Conservation League helped generate and mentioned as missing during hearing testimonies, IDL never transmitted to WIRT at the onset of IDL encroachment permit litigation, and the Coast Guard has taken offline since WIRT posted a September 10 link to them [25].

Nonetheless, bully BNSF is bluffing a fall 2019 project start with the following, newspaper article statements, survey stakes around the large wetland connected to the south mouth of Sand Creek, and several dozen mostly large, cleared trees in the floodplain downslope of the wetland and north and up-current of Dog Beach Park. We wonder if 2020 spring floods will inundate the popular Serenity Lee pedestrian and bike trail and the popular dog park on the Sandpoint, Idaho, fossil fuels frontline [9].

“BNSF is mobilizing and is expected to begin upland work on railroad property between Sand Creek and Dog Beach. The work includes constructing site access of U.S. Highway 95 and building temporary and permanent trails that will keep the bike and pedestrian path open during construction.” [14]

“The company has received permits from the Coast Guard and plans to start preliminary work on the bridges this week.” [20]

For Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington activists, WIRT continues to watch and document the potential, BNSF bridges construction site and westbound, BNSF, unit trains of coal and black tanker cars, moving toward and over Lake Pend Oreille, where winds around the almost mile-long rail bridge blow more coal into regional drinking water, threatened bull trout critical habitat, and lakebed, coal deposits, into which BNSF plans to drive 1000 piles for a temporary work span and second (and later third) railroad bridge enabling riskier, more derailment-vulnerable, bi-directional train traffic.

Four tree slaying trucks, some from Canada, arrived in Sandpoint at about 6:30 pm on Wednesday, September 11. They first pulled over on southbound U.S. Highway 95, exited on Superior Street, then turned around in the Best Western parking lot, to presumably head to an area hotel [26]. WIRT activists suspect that they may clear trees in the morning in the survey-staked wetland near the Sand Creek mouth to Lake Pend Oreille, where BNSF does not have a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers wetland/dredge/fill permit for its fossil fuels pipeline-on-rails bridge expansions over both water bodies [22].

RAILROAD NEWS: Partially drawn from a local, September 6, newspaper story, four railroad industry articles with several errors have appeared since the September 4, Federal Register notice of availability and the September 5, Coast Guard issuance of a FONSI and final EA for of BNSF Railway’s proposal to construct second bridges across Sand Creek and Lake Pend Oreille, called the “crown jewel of the Gem State.” [14, 27-31]  The new, parallel infrastructure would supplement the existing, single-track spans and, according to project proponents, eliminate a bottleneck that blocks public and private road crossings and rail yards and sidings, reduce current and future freight traffic congestion, and bestow the economic benefits of product and passenger trains.

Regulating structures over navigable U.S. waters, the Coast Guard determined its expedited EA the appropriate level of environmental review, and dismissed officials’ and residents’ calls for a more rigorous analysis via an EIS. It addressed concerns about increased rail traffic by noting that the project does not add any origin or destination facilities, but would improve the movement efficiency of the average 60 trains per day. Other constraints on main rail line configurations leading into the study area (like a rare, at-grade, track crossing with another Class 1 railroad, Union Pacific, within Sandpoint) would limit the overall, maximum, operational capacity of approximately 79 daily trains and “market conditions influencing rail traffic growth.”

In response to thoughtful, opponent comments about greater volumes of crude oil and other hazardous materials derailments and coal dust contamination of water quality, the final EA incorporated regional, geographic response and BNSF plans to prevent and contain various types of train spills, and argued that coal load profiling and suppressants minimize fugitive coal dust lost in transit, to supposedly only trace amounts below levels harmful to human or ecological health.

SPOKANE NEWS: Immediately after the September 5 release of the U.S. Coast Guard’s final environmental assessment of BNSF Railway plans to build second bridges across Lake Pend Oreille and Sand Creek near Sandpoint, the railroad cleared dozens of large trees downslope of subsequently affected wetlands that it does not have a permit to detrimentally impact, fill, or “mitigate” by enhancing Priest River area wetlands (downstream sponges of a lake oil train spill?) [32]

According to BNSF, “last week, upland work started to create access to the future construction site near Sand Creek, as well as relocate a bike trail, so it can be used throughout the project…In-water construction is anticipated to start in mid-October, pending final permitting from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.” [33]

BNSF contradicts a September 11, Army Corps, project timing description, in response to a WIRT request for information: “The Corps is continuing to work towards its permit decision related to the discharge of fill material into waters of the U.S. associated with the project. The Corps does not have a set timeline for when it will complete its permit decision.” [33]

The Coast Guard echoes BNSF doublespeak that the three- to five-year project will reduce the century-old, renovated bridge bottleneck and nearby, idling train diesel emissions, and that only markets dictate the additional rail traffic and increased hazardous materials transports over water that concerned residents expect the project to impose.

The Idaho Conservation League states that, “the Coast Guard ignored nearly 2,000 people who wanted a more thorough study [via a full environmental impact statement] of the project’s effects on air and water quality, public safety and health, the environment, and other factors, such as traffic and the economy.” [33]

Thanks to “Delta Five” oil train blockader Patrick Mazza for his Sandpoint visit, #No2ndBridge explorations, contextual conversations, productive connections, and WIRT contribution, as we anticipate ongoing collaboration! His facebook post of this article notes that, “oil and coal trains coming from Montana and Wyoming roll over this bridge. Much of the Columbia watershed flows through Lake Pend Oreille. A wreck would be catastrophic. Helen Yost of Wild Idaho Rising Tide is fighting a valiant battle against the bridge, but not getting the support she deserves.” [32] Please donate toward WIRT #No2ndBridge efforts at the Donate to WIRT button [4]: THANKS!

[1] BNSF Bridges EIS or EA March! May 31, 2019 Wild Idaho Rising Tide

[2] Lake Pend Oreille Climate Strike September 21, Judith Butler

[3] BNSF Bridges Coast Guard EA Protest, September 17, 2019 Wild Idaho Rising Tide

[4] Donate to WIRT, Wild Idaho Rising Tide Everbutton

[5] #No2ndBridge FINAL EA & FONSI! September 4, 2019 Wild Idaho Rising Tide

[6] Notice of Availability of Final Environmental Assessment and Finding of No Significant Impact for the Proposed Construction of Railroad Bridges Across Sand Creek and Lake Pend Oreille at Sandpoint, Bonner County, Idaho, September 5, 2019 U.S. Coast Guard/Federal Register

[7] BNSF Railway Bridge, Lake Pend Oreille, Sand Point, Idaho, U.S. Coast Guard/Regulations.gov

[8] On Saturday, September 7, while guiding a West Coast, direct action trainer…, September 7, 2019 Wild Idaho Rising Tide

[9] BNSF Bridges Sites Fall 2019: September 9, September 10, 2019 Wild Idaho Rising Tide

[10] Get Ready to Rubble, August 30, 2019 Sandpoint Reader

[11] As if WIRT was not already, continuously on the north Idaho…, September 5, 2019 Wild Idaho Rising Tide

[12] WIRT Hosting Fifth ‘Panhandle Paddle’, September 6, 2019 Bonner County Daily Bee

[13] Coast Guard Issues ‘Finding of No Significant Impact’ for Proposed Second Rail Bridge, September 5, 2019 Sandpoint Reader

[14] USCG Approves BNSF Bridge Plan, September 6, 2019 Bonner County Daily Bee

[15] Associated Press #No2ndBridge Articles, September 7, 2019 Wild Idaho Rising Tide

[16] US Officials OK Railroad’s Plan for Northern Idaho Bridges across Lake Pend Oreille, September 6, 2019 Idaho Press-Tribune

[17] BNSF Gets Green Light for New Bridges, September 6, 2019 Lewiston Morning Tribune

[18] US Officials OK Railroad’s Plan for Northern Idaho Bridges, September 6, 2019 Flathead Beacon

[19] US Officials OK Railroad’s Plan for Northern Idaho Bridges, September 5, 2019 Daily Inter Lake

[20] BNSF Idaho Bridges Plan Advances, September 5, 2019 Columbian

[21] New Railway Bridges Considered, September 6, 2019 KOZI Radio

[22] BNSF BRIDGES NOT “DONE DEAL” (despite renewed site work)! September 10, 2019 Wild Idaho Rising Tide

[23] Business With Us / Regulatory Division, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Walla Walla District

[24] Modification of Final § 401 Water Quality Certification for Sandpoint Junction Connector Project NWW-2007-01303, March 22, 2019 Idaho Department of Environmental Quality

[25] Public Comments USACE PN Application NWW-2007-01303, February 26, 2018 U.S. Coast Guard Office of Bridge Programs

[26] Four tree slaying trucks, some from Canada…, September 11, 2019 Wild Idaho Rising Tide

[27] Partially drawn from the last-linked, local, September 6, newspaper story…, September 12, 2019 Wild Idaho Rising Tide

[28] BNSF Bridge Proceeding in Idaho, September 8, 2019 Railway Age

[29] BNSF Bridge Proceeding in Idaho, September 10, 2019 Railpage

[30] U.S. Coast Guard Approves BNSF’s Idaho Rail Bridge Plan, September 9, 2019 Progressive Railroading

[31] BNSF Gets the OK to Build Two New Rail Bridges in Northern Idaho, September 6, 2019 Railway Track and Structures

[32] Immediately after the September 5 release of the U.S. Coast Guard’s final environmental assessment…, September 15, 2019 Wild Idaho Rising Tide

[33] BNSF’s Lake Pend Oreille Rail Bridge Can Move Forward after Coast Guard Assessment, September 12, 2019 Pacific Northwest Inlander

1 thought on “BNSF Bridges Coast Guard EA Protest

  1. Pingback: September 21 Lake Communities Climate Strike & #No2ndBridge March | Wild Idaho Rising Tide

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