September 21 Lake Communities Climate Strike & #No2ndBridge March


Global Event in Sandpoint Offers a Public Rally & Coast Guard Decision Protest

350 Sandpoint, Wild Idaho Rising Tide (WIRT), and communities around Lake Pend Oreille are hosting two north Idaho activities in solidarity with the Global Climate Strike and in resistance to the ongoing pollution, climate impacts, and regional risks of Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) Railway’s present and proposed, fossil fuels pipeline-on-rails across Lake Pend Oreille and north Idaho.  Event organizers request that participants bring signs and voices addressing the climate crisis, and gather together with friends and families on Saturday, September 21, at East Farmin Park, Third and Main Streets in Sandpoint.  At 1 pm, the Lake Pend Oreille Climate Strike held by 350Sandpoint features speakers and music.  The BNSF Bridges Coast Guard EA Protest led by WIRT marches from the park at 2 pm, in opposition to climate-wrecking, fossil fuels trains and infrastructure expansion [1, 2].

People in 150 countries are organizing Global Climate Strikes on September 20 to 27, with urgent actions to protest fossil fuel pipeline proposals, expansions, and bank funding, to oppose coal, oil, and tar sands extraction and train transportation, to protect local and global air, water, forests, and species, and to push for just and equitable, clean energy solutions.  Amid increasingly chaotic weather, floods, droughts, wildfires, “natural” disasters, and widespread harm to people everywhere, worldwide demonstrations are calling for an end to corporate and government business-as-usual.

Your support and presence on the north Idaho fossil fuels frontline becomes more necessary every day!  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 your ideas and enthusiasm to these climate action opportunities [3].  Consider contributing physically and/or fiscally to #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].

Issue Background

During 2018 and 2019, thousands of Northwest citizens diligently participated in state and federal hearings and extended comment periods, requesting a scientifically rigorous, environmental impact statement (EIS) analysis of the environmental and socioeconomic harms inflicted by BNSF Railway’s proposed construction and operation of parallel, second (and consequently later third) bridges across Sand Creek and almost one mile over Lake Pend Oreille, Idaho’s largest, deepest lake [5].  BNSF’s 2.2-mile, Sandpoint Junction Connector project would also double rail line through downtown Sandpoint and across Bridge Street, the only access to a regional, water intake plant, residences, and popular beaches, marinas, and resorts.  The three- to five-year BNSF scheme plans to drive 1000-plus piles for two temporary work spans and three permanent railroad bridges, into over 100 years of train- and coal-polluted, lakebed sediment, critical habitat for threatened bull trout and angler-prized fish, surface and aquifer drinking water, and the heart of Bonner County’s recreation and tourism economy, to enable riskier, more derailment-vulnerable, bi-directional, fossil fuels, hazardous materials, and other train traffic.

Despite strong comments from four or more involved, environmental organizations and a Sandpoint City Council resolution requesting an EIS, the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) issued a finding of no significant impact (FONSI) on August 29, and a final environmental assessment (EA), less thorough than an EIS, on September 5, essentially approving BNSF’s pipeline-on-rails bridges expansion over an interior Northwest, aquatic ecosystem that provides 42 percent of Columbia Basin waters [6].  The Coast Guard decision promotes ongoing, industry excuses for BNSF’s $100 million gamble with regional and global air, water, and climate quality, public health and safety, catastrophic derailments, traffic at road crossings, and local economies, while ignoring and dismissing myriad citizen concerns about this railroad invasion.

Rail line community residents and groups and the Sandpoint mayor and city council strongly and broadly voiced demands for a full EIS study of the significant, immitigable, and cumulative impacts imposed by BNSF’s massive, rail infrastructure expansion.  Bridge opponents thoughtfully questioned the probabilities of increased train traffic, greater volumes of coal, crude oil, and other hazardous materials transports over water, higher risks of explosive and toxic derailments in the lake and populated areas, further coal dust contamination of the watershed, and numerous, rail expansion effects on rural life ways, values, and uses of the lake, its waters and environment and scenic, recreational, and historic qualities.

But the Coast Guard determined that its expedited EA is the appropriate level of environmental review, sidestepping crucial examination of the environmental and socioeconomic implications of BNSF’s capriciously violent industrialization of precious public places.  Echoing BNSF and project proponent doublespeak, the Coast Guard asserts that the new railroad spans would supplement the century-old, renovated, single-track bridges, and accordingly eliminate a bottleneck that blocks rail lines, sidings, and yards and public and private road crossings [7-9].  The federal agency says that the new bridges would better bestow the economic benefits of freight and passenger trains, by reducing current, bridge passage congestion that backs up mile-long trains into Montana and eastern Washington, produces idling train, diesel emissions, and delays vehicles blocked by stationary trains at nearby railroad crossings.

BNSF and the Coast Guard claim that regional trains are part of a critical supply chain transporting eastbound and westbound passengers and goods including airplane fuselages, autos, clothing, coal, crude oil, grain, soybeans, and wind turbines.  They address concerns about increased rail traffic by noting that the project does not add any origin or destination facilities, and that only market conditions can influence rail traffic growth, not adding main line bridges.

Although BNSF expects to improve the movement efficiency of the average 60 trains per day through Sandpoint, it admits that other single tracks and rail line configurations leading into the study area limit the overall, maximum, operational capacity of approximately 79 daily trains.  In its draft EA, BNSF barely covered the rare, at-grade, track crossing with another Class 1 railroad, Union Pacific, in Sandpoint, a rail system constraint that noticeably disrupts road and rail travel.  The final EA incorporates geographic emergency response and BNSF plans to purportedly prevent and contain various types of train spills, and argues 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.

Without a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) dredge, fill, and wetlands impact permit, required by section 404 of the Clean Water Act and other federal laws, on September 5 and 6, BNSF immediately began preliminary work and cleared dozens of huge, conifer, and deciduous trees in its leased, lake floodplain right-of-way, above Dog Beach Park and downslope of subsequently affected, survey-staked wetlands connected to Sand Creek near its lake outlet [10].  Instead of lawfully avoiding and minimizing wetland effects, the BNSF project would engage mitigation banks, by enhancing Priest River area wetlands, perhaps the downstream sponges of a predictable, lake, oil or chemical train spill.  Coincidentally, workers contracted by the City of Sandpoint concurrently cut as many trees on First Avenue and Cedar Street on September 5 and 6, as part of 2018-19 and ongoing, destructive, downtown building condemnations and fires and street reconstruction [11].

In response to emailed, WIRT concerns, the USACE regulatory project manager wrote on September 11 that the federal agency “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,…[and] does not have a set timeline for when it will complete its permit decision.” [10]  But a September 12, newspaper article quoted BNSF contradicting the Army Corps, stating that “upland work started to create access [off U.S. Highway 95] to the future construction site near Sand Creek, as well as relocate a bike [and pedestrian] 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.” [12]

The Federal Register announced Coast Guard bridge approval on the one-year anniversary of WIRT’s filing of an amended petition for judicial review of the Idaho Department of Lands (IDL) encroachment permit for BNSF’s Sandpoint area bridge expansions.  While the Coast Guard oversees bridges over navigable, U.S. waters, IDL officials regulating lake bed structures granted the permit on June 21, 2018, which WIRT challenged with an expensive lawsuit that a Moscow judge dismissed in March 2019, without considering the merits of case arguments.  Like other instances of missing records never transmitted by IDL to WIRT at the onset of litigation, we recently found thousands of Idaho Conservation League-generated, anti-bridge, form letter comments with the same, February 2018 date as initial, IDL, and USACE release for public review of BNSF’s joint application.  On the north Idaho, fossil-fueled, climate change frontline, the September 21, global climate strike and #No2ndBridge march occur on the first anniversary of the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality (IDEQ) issuing its “final,” Clean Water Act section 401, water quality certification for the BNSF project, a document modified in March 2019 that further compounds Army Corps permit uncertainty.

Amid justifiable, public outcry against the Coast Guard decision, in Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington, WIRT activists and board members, allied groups, and the Sandpoint City Council are scrutinizing the Coast Guard documents for responses to comments, procedural snafus in the draft and final EA, public input, and decision processes, and findings and conclusions appealable in federal court, as we reach out to associates with our intentions to initiate or join litigation successfully insisting on a full, independent, EIS study of BNSF Railway bridges expansion [13].  (Contact USCG district bridge manager Steven Fischer at 206-220-7282 with your questions, and search for USCG-2018-1085 at Regulations.gov, to review BNSF project documents and public comments.)  Among ongoing, resistance work, WIRT also continues to monitor, photograph, 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, synthesize WIRT research of public records, and provide #No2ndBridge reports, photos, and action alerts.

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

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

[3] BNSF Bridges Coast Guard EA Protest (with Recent #No2ndBridge Issue Updates), September 17, 2019 Wild Idaho Rising Tide

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[13] At the Wednesday, September 18, Sandpoint City Council meeting…, September 22, 2019 Wild Idaho Rising Tide

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