Climate Strike & USACE Permit Protest


In September 2019, Rising Tide North America (RTNA) joined Shut Down DC and disrupted the morning commute in the nation’s capital.  RTNA and allies then blockaded major banks funding oil, gas, and coal, created a two-block, street mural that showed a livable world, and shut down San Francisco’s financial district.  Both of those demonstrations included hundreds of people stepping up to take action on a massive scale.  Since then, inspiring, Oregon groups fighting pipelines have blocked the Port of Vancouver and occupied the governor’s office [1].

On Friday, December 6, people around the continent are organizing alongside the next youth climate strike, as an inflection point for other large, coordinated actions.  In solidarity with student strikers and communities everywhere struggling against fossil fuels extraction, transportation, and production, we ask you to help us protest business-as-usual on the Idaho Panhandle frontline, where Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) Railway received its last, needed, federal permit, from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on November 20, for filling wetlands and constructing three additional railroad bridges and doubled tracks conveying coal, oil, and hazardous materials across Lake Pend Oreille, Sand Creek, and downtown Sandpoint, Idaho [2].

Since the September 5, 2019, U.S. Coast Guard permit, while we urgently seek attorney representation, await purported, allied litigation, and endure predictable, institutional failures to force better study of this devastating project, WIRT activists have witnessed through tears and documented with photos the lifeless landscapes of obliterated forests and fields, recently paved access roads, and huge, lakeside, dirt mounds and machinery at BNSF’s expansion site [3-7].  During this industrial onslaught, gusty, 50-mile-per-hour, northeast winds have raged across the lake and site, collapsing protective, chain-link, and silt-catching fences and sending dust and sediment into public airsheds, waters, and roads and threatened bull trout critical habitat.  Blowing perpendicular to the present and proposed, almost mile-long, rail spans over the lake, these and other winds have spewed diesel and coal particles from uncovered trains into lakebed deposits and regional drinking water, into which BNSF plans to drive 1000-plus temporary and permanent piles for second (and likely later third) railroad bridges, accommodating more derailment-vulnerable, bi-directional traffic of potentially spilled oil, coal, hazardous materials, and other rail freight.

To alleviate Sandpoint-to-Spokane, railroad route “funnel” conditions, BNSF has pushed past local governments and residents another risky rail line adjacent to Cocolalla Lake [8].  In various, application explanations and environmental analyses, it has minimized its description of the construction timeline and impacts, and never fully revealed its ultimate plans for the Sandpoint Junction Connector project.  Besides crowding area parking, housing, and road-rail crossings, BNSF bridges construction could cause Sandpoint to lose three to five years of business revenue, from declines in tourism and recreation, especially fishing.  Within five miles both up-lake and downriver from BNSF’s pile-driving noise, loud enough to kill fish in this upper Columbia basin, as admitted in permits, anglers can forget about catching the record-sized, rainbow and bull trout recently reeled in [9].

According to various, government, energy publications, the approximately three each daily, westbound, BNSF, unit, coal and crude oil trains that traverse north Idaho together release 37 percent more carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions (138,432 metric tons), when combusted at their destinations, than all in-state, Idaho sources (101,370 metric tons) per day [10].  These figures do not include other fossil fuel cars in BNSF, mixed freight trains or Union Pacific Railroad, unit, oil and tar sands trains and intermixed, fossil fuel, tank cars.  But they do confirm that BNSF, fossil fuel trains, moving through north Idaho toward West Coast production and export facilities, load the shared, global atmosphere with an average of one million metric tons of CO2 every week, apparently not the “climate-friendly,” transportation solution that prolific, locally profitable, BNSF ads in Sandpoint area media proclaimed during 2017 to 2019, but mostly ceased this fall, soon after the railroad acquired its expansion permits from local, state, and federal agencies.

Sandpoint area citizens and officials have countered this 2.2-mile, lake and city, rail expansion, by demanding a more scientifically rigorous, environmental impact statement (EIS) study, instead of the Coast Guard-issued, final environmental assessment (EA) and finding of no significant impact (FONSI).  Along with project supporters, they generated 4,790 comments on the draft EA, four times more than the 1,155 comments fielded by the draft supplemental EIS for TC Energy/TransCanada’s proposed, Keystone XL, tar sands pipeline that crosses 1,180 miles and three states (Montana, South Dakota, and Nebraska) [11].  Under National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) regulations, projects that attract high levels of controversy (comments), significantly and adversely affect endangered species and their critical habitat, and inflict other environmental and socioeconomic harms generally require EISs, not just FONSIs and EAs.  Nonetheless on November 25, the Coast Guard upheld its final EA and FONSI decision, in response to the city of Sandpoint’s May 2018 resolution, March 2019 comments, and November 2019 letter, all requesting a project EIS [12].  The only remaining recourses to slow and ideally stop this industrial invasion of the watershed basis of Sandpoint’s environmental and socioeconomic wellbeing are several potential avenues for litigation, currently explored by WIRT and allies, and/or the ages-old remedy for injustice: direct action.

Now more than ever, at a scale necessary to overcome the climate crisis, Idaho and inland Northwest activists must name and shame the fossil fuel causes of climate change and their insidious pollution, derailment, and climate risks and impacts on rail line communities.  Please dress for warmth and dryness, bring your creative signs, friends, courage, and dedication, and join WIRT activists at the Serenity Lee trailhead and path and Dog Beach Park in and near Sandpoint, during a 12 to 2 pm climate strike on Friday, December 6.  WIRT will provide action advice, coaching, and chants.  Respond in advance with your questions and ideas and to verify your appreciated participation, share this event information and flyer among your associates and contacts, and see previous and upcoming, website- and facebook-posted, WIRT newsletters and alerts, for further information about this issue [13].

[1] Rising Tide North America

[2] Army Corps Permit for #No2ndBridge! November 24, 2019 Wild Idaho Rising Tide

[3] PRDC, WIRT, and Sandpoint Council Meetings, #No2ndBridge Updates, Regional Railroad Snafus, November 5, 2019 Wild Idaho Rising Tide

[4] BNSF Bridges Sites Fall 2019: November 10, November 11, 2019 Wild Idaho Rising Tide

[5] BNSF Bridges Sites Fall 2019: November 24, November 25, 2019 Wild Idaho Rising Tide

[6] High Winds = High Railroad Risks! November 26, 2019 Wild Idaho Rising Tide

[7] BNSF Bridges Sites Fall 2019: November 27, November 28, 2019 Wild Idaho Rising Tide

[8] BNSF Forges More “Funnel” Double-Track, November 5, 2019 Railway Age

[9] ‘She’s Tough as Nails’: Sandpoint Girl Breaks Idaho Record with 36.5-Inch Rainbow Trout, November 8, 2019 KREM

[10] BNSF and Idaho Climate Pollution, December 2, 2019 Wild Idaho Rising Tide

[11] The federal government, public document, and input site, Regulations.gov…, November 21, 2019 Wild Idaho Rising Tide

[12] On Monday, December 2, the Sandpoint city clerk shared…, December 2, 2019 Wild Idaho Rising Tide

[13] Category Archives: BNSF Bridges, Wild Idaho Rising Tide

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