Sandpoint Meetings, Lake Railroad Pollution, Bridges Resistance, & Construction


October 17: Sandpoint WIRT Meeting

Thanks to everyone who visited and contributed donations during rare, Wild Idaho Rising Tide (WIRT), Moscow, outreach tabling at Farmers Market on Friendship Square on Saturday, October 5, and to a Palouse Environmental Sustainability Coalition (PESC) member who met with WIRT on Sunday, October 6 [1, 2].  Despite a grueling, September and October 2019, continuing WIRT’s opposition and vigil on the north Idaho, fossil fuels pipeline-on-rails, and #No2ndBridge frontline, our climate activist collective welcomes opportunities to talk with all about critical issues, and to share images, dispatches, and actions with the regional, environmental, and indigenous community [3].

While under siege by reckless development and resister repression, volunteer, grassroots, WIRT organizers would greatly appreciate your efforts in arranging upcoming presentations, training workshops, demonstrations, and #No2ndBridge litigation.  So we encourage you to participate in October and November 2019, potluck gatherings, enjoy climate action documentaries, talk about tactics and strategies, and offer your unique advice and assistance, as we together relentlessly confront the fossil fuel causes of climate change, through direct resistance and frontline solutions.  Join activity-planning conversations on the first and third Thursdays (now instead of Wednesdays) of every month, starting at 6 pm (not the usual 7 pm) on Thursday, October 17, at the Gardenia Center, 400 Church Street in Sandpoint, and on Thursday, November 7, at The Attic, up the back stairs of 314 East Second Street in Moscow.

Meanwhile, please check WIRT website and especially facebook pages for posts and pictures, and listen to WIRT’s weekly, Climate Justice Forum radio program for updates about recent, ongoing, and emerging, Northwest and continent-wide, fossil fuel infrastructure invasions and protests, and share this information among your associates and contacts [4].  We are talking with allies, attorneys, and government officials about Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) Railway’s bridge and track expansion document deficiencies, while we witness massive tree clearing and bulldozing without all permits for BNSF’s Sandpoint Junction Connector project, endure noise- and dust-spewing, downtown Sandpoint, street reconstruction outside the WIRT office, dismiss criminalization attempts by released, federal investigation files and mainstream media articles, and observe and report water-polluting, disaster-risking, westbound, BNSF, unit trains of coal and black tanker (presumably oil) trains, for the #IDoiltrainwatch and #WAoiltrainwatch [5].

September 27 to 29: Storm-Borne Lake Coal Dust

During the weekend of September 27 to 29, the north Idaho Panhandle experienced an early-season snow storm, hazardous weather conditions, and sustained, cold, northeast winds of 30 miles per hour (mph), gusting up to 55 mph [6].  Accompanying some of the strongest, Sandpoint area, winter storms, these raw, intense winds plummet wind chills, create white caps on Lake Pend Oreille, and blow perpendicular to the almost mile-long, BNSF rail bridge in the lake, where they push more coal from uncovered train cars into regional drinking water, threatened bull trout critical habitat, and lakebed coal deposits, into which BNSF plans to drive 1000 piles with large, noisy, impact hammers, for a temporary, construction span and second, railroad bridge accommodating more derailment-vulnerable, bi-directional train traffic.

Apparently aware of the risks of tip-over derailments (but not coal dust pollution?) from brisk winds, BNSF stacked all container cars only one, not the usual two, high, in two mixed freight trains observed by WIRT on Saturday, September 28, when we also documented a westbound, unit coal train during peak winds [7].  Hauling ongoing, coal transports under such dangerous conditions and denying coal dust contamination of the lake, BNSF disregarded WIRT comments to the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) on March 23 and 25 and May 1, 2019, concerning the draft environmental assessment (EA) of BNSF’s bridge and track doubling across the lake and Sandpoint.  We urged the Coast Guard to require independently gathered and analyzed core samples of lakebed sediment and pollution within the BNSF train bridge right-of-way, to detect a century of railroad, mine, mill, and coal contamination in the project area, potentially disturbed by dredging and drilling, bridge building activities.  In just one of many instances of #No2ndBridge comment dismissal, BNSF only tested soil at nearby sites, not within bridge construction zones, before the Coast Guard issued a final EA and finding of no significant impact (FONSI) on September 5 [8].

September 18 to November 2: Sandpoint Request for BNSF Bridges EIS

At Sandpoint City Council, regular, and special sessions on September 18 and 26, attended by a few community members, Matt Nykiel of the Idaho Conservation League (ICL) and Helen Yost of WIRT offered information updates and support, as the council considered its appropriate response to the Coast Guard’s 1,549-page, final EA and appendices and FONSI for BNSF Railway’s proposed construction of two permanent, parallel, rail bridges and two temporary, work spans across Lake Pend Oreille and Sand Creek, during three to five years [8, 9].  This lead regulatory agency, overseeing the Sandpoint Junction Connector Project that would also build a second rail structure over Bridge Street, has provided neither an administrative appeal process or an optional, 30-day, public comment period for its final decision.  Interested parties can file a lawsuit as the only remaining recourse, a possibility that ICL, Lake Pend Oreille Waterkeeper (LPOW), and WIRT are currently considering, while talking with attorneys and determining whether the final EA and FONSI sufficiently comply with relevant laws.

The council agreed on September 26 to direct city staff to draft a formal, but only symbolic, letter to the Coast Guard for the record, ideally available to the council at its October 16 or November 2 regular meetings.  The letter would ask the federal agency to reconsider its decision to issue a final EA, without requiring the highest level of environmental review, an environmental impact statement (EIS), as requested by a May 2018, council resolution, March 2019, city comments, and over 2,000 respondents, the vast majority of individual and organizational commenters to the Coast Guard.  WIRT suggested that the city solicit public input to ascertain unaddressed city and other comments, and that the council letter could also ask for an optional, 30-day, public comment period on the final EA, and describe its errors and legal deficiencies.  ICL noted that the final EA included a city-prompted, socioeconomic impact analysis, but did not consider environmental justice and quality of life effects of the BNSF project, nor accommodate public insights on this belated appendix missing among draft EA materials.

On October 8, Sandpoint city staff thanked WIRT for our offer to assist the city in composing a letter to the Coast Guard, requesting an EIS for the proposed, BNSF, railroad bridges project, which the council would adopt by resolution [10].  While providing pertinent copies of the May 2018 resolution and city comments to the Coast Guard, the city clerk asked for further discussion and letter input.  Expressing gratitude for the city’s invitation and deadline alert, WIRT determined the focus and parameters of the city letter through a phone call, and sent further email notes and attached documents describing potential letter goals and lawful mandates for an EIS.  For its forthcoming letter to the Coast Guard, WIRT recommended that the City of Sandpoint:

1) Engage an attorney, to ensure legally defensible arguments supporting a potential court challenge to demand that the Coast Guard conduct an EIS study;

2) Encourage citizen input, to cover city and all constituent comments inadequately addressed by final EA responses;

3) State the requests of the city resolution and comments and their insufficient replies in the final EA and FONSI;

4) Describe the blatant errors, unresolved issues, missing mitigation measures, and legal deficiencies of the final EA and FONSI;

5) Ask USCG to reconsider its decision to issue a final EA and FONSI and to not require a project EIS;

6) Mention the 2,000-plus comments to involved, state, and federal agencies and the WIRT petition for judicial review of the Idaho Department of Lands encroachment permit, which all urged EIS completion before other granted permits;

7) Request a 30-day-plus, public comment period on the final EA and FONSI, to further push for an EIS, without the litigation enforcement taunted by BNSF; and

8) Urge the Coast Guard to stay its decision and halt BNSF construction activities and their impacts, during deliberation of the EA/EIS matter.

Rigorous, EIS analyses would compel obtaining and synthesizing scientifically-backed facts and providing better chances for the public to contribute study suggestions and information.  Without these necessary insights, the City of Sandpoint issued a permit for the second, Sand Creek, BNSF railroad bridge this summer 2019 [11].  The Sandpoint City Council is presently deciding how it will proceed with composition of its letter to the Coast Guard, which will likely be ready for council and public review at the November 2 meeting.  Please see three WIRT facebook posts for links to council meeting minutes and videos, newspaper articles, and accompanying WIRT notes and reflections [8-10].

September 5 & Ongoing: BNSF Project Construction

On September 5 and 6, with all state and federal approvals except a looming, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Clean Water Act Section 404 permit for project impacts on wetlands and waters of the U.S., from dredging and filling activities, and without WIRT-requested, sediment contamination analysis of the lakebed project area, BNSF and its contractors began upland groundwork between Sand Creek on the north and the Dog Beach Park shores of Lake Pend Oreille on the south, to double two miles of track and three bridges in Sandpoint and north Idaho.  Immediately clearing dozens of trees within a fenced enclosure just north of the lakeside park, crews prepared space for the primary, equipment staging site and raised-track, bridge approaches on the north end of the two proposed and one present, nearly mile-long, lake spans.  They also re-routed the Serenity Lee pedestrian and bike trail that connects Sagle, Sandpoint, and the former Long Bridge, around a temporary, gravel, access ramp located dangerously off a U.S. Highway 95 curve near its Long Bridge, north-side landfall.  Two stops signs at the enclosure gates guard the ramp from non-motorized cross-traffic.

Despite concerns about encountering increasingly worse devastation with every visit, WIRT activists have diligently sought to capture extensive images of the changing, BNSF construction sites over time, gathering, compiling, and posting photos with explanations in facebook albums, on September 9 and 12, after initial and further tree clearing, on September 22, after wetland staking, and on October 6, 7, and 11, after first, noticed bulldozing [12-16].  If dust- and diesel fume-spewing, water-polluting, life-threatening, westbound, unit coal and oil trains interrupt our forays, we attain eventually damning evidence of their passage, too.

Between single train tracks to the east, and the multi-use Serenity Lee Trail to the west, a large bulldozer has placed several, long, huge piles of fine, sandy soil, shoveled out of a trailside, square ditch by two small bulldozers.  Despite the close proximity of these piles and other site preparations to a large, forested wetland flowing into the north side of Sand Creek and its Lake Pend Oreille outlet and bull trout critical habitat, stakes labeled “silt fence” do not bear this required, preventative measure.  WIRT complained on October 7 to on-site, BNSF workers, and on October 10 to City of Sandpoint staff, about soil piles risking sediment pollution and water drainage disruption of wetlands, floodplains, and the creek and lake, especially if EIS-insisting lawsuit(s) postpone project progress during windy and wet winters and springs.  On the almost-full moon evening of October 11, we noticed a water truck parked with the second large bulldozer, inside the site fence near Dog Beach Park.  It had likely, earlier dampened the trail and freshly dug ditch but not soil piles, while the large, Earth-moving equipment, night-lit by a half-dozen Highway 95 lights, had stopped short of a second, heavily staked but not silt fenced wetland south of the piles, perhaps due to the still unissued, Army Corps permit.  From Dog Beach Park within the BNSF right-of-way and Idaho Transportation Department lands around Serenity Lee Trail, we also viewed some BNSF activity at the south end of the current, rail bridge.

WIRT has warned the city and others that this railroad invasion of our watershed could degrade our environmental economic base for over a decade, if BNSF also attempts to replace its present, Sandpoint area, railroad bridges, as Pierre Bordenave of Jacobs Engineering hinted at a May 2018, state hearing on the project.  As bad faith actor BNSF recklessly proceeds with commenced project work, consequently disregarding its significant impacts on the north Idaho community, the City of Sandpoint and two suddenly issue-neutral, bigger, green groups, who all rallied for a Coast Guard EIS, are suspiciously dragging their resistance feet.  But every move that BNSF makes now toward its local, expansion objectives inflicts and confirms the harms that WIRT and allies have decried through comments and hearings, and provides better evidence of the necessity of a preliminary injunction of the Coast Guard, final EA and FONSI decision.  While the #No2ndBridge situation swiftly “gets real,” the north Idaho fossil fuels frontline needs more water protectors, and WIRT grows restless searching for pro bono attorney interceders and planning protest and court actions.  As American Revolution battle-winning Captain John Paul Jones responded to a British ship call for his surrender on September 23, 1779, exactly 240 years before a Guardian article about WIRT criminalization, “I have not yet begun to fight!”

Support WIRT!

Please consider contributing physically as a volunteer and/or fiscally as a funding supporter of WIRT campaigns confronting the fossil fuel sources of climate change, via mail to our Sandpoint and Moscow addresses, or online through our website Donate to WIRT button [17].  Thanks!

[1] Weekend, WIRT and Allied Events, October 3, 2019 Wild Idaho Rising Tide

[2] Visit WIRT activists during our rare, tabling, outreach efforts in Moscow…, October 5, 2019 Wild Idaho Rising Tide

[3] Throughout an emotionally and physically grueling September and October 2019…, October 12, 2019 Wild Idaho Rising Tide

[4] Category Archives: Climate Justice Forum, Wild Idaho Rising Tide

[5] The noise- and dust-spewing, fossil-fueled beasts…, October 12, 2019 Wild Idaho Rising Tide

[6] Since Friday afternoon, September 27…, September 28, 2019 Wild Idaho Rising Tide

[7] No Coal Dust in Lake Pend Oreille?! September 28, 2019 Wild Idaho Rising Tide

[8] At the Thursday, September 26, Sandpoint City Council special meeting…, September 29, 2019 Wild Idaho Rising Tide

[9] At a September 26, 2019, special meeting, the Sandpoint City Council…, October 3, 2019 Wild Idaho Rising Tide

[10] City of Sandpoint Letter to U.S. Coast Guard Requesting EIS on Proposed Construction of Railroad Bridges, October 15, 2019 Wild Idaho Rising Tide

[11] Sandpoint Permit for Sand Creek BNSF Bridge! September 24, 2019 Wild Idaho Rising Tide

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

[13] BNSF Bridges Sites Fall 2019: September 12, September 13, 2019 Wild Idaho Rising Tide

[14] BNSF Bridges Sites Fall 2019: September 22, September 23, 2019 Wild Idaho Rising Tide

[15] BNSF Bridges Sites Fall 2019: October 6 & 7, October 8, 2019 Wild Idaho Rising Tide

[16] BNSF Bridges Sites Fall 2019: October 11, October 12, 2019 Wild Idaho Rising Tide

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

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