After an eleven-week break, the Wednesday, January 29, 2020, Climate Justice Forum radio program, produced by regional, climate activist collective Wild Idaho Rising Tide, features a mid-November 2019 conversation with Phyllis Kardos of Responsible Growth Northeast Washington, discussing regional opposition and court cases against a proposed, Newport, silicon smelter. We also share news and reflections on a New Year’s Day, rockslide-caused, BNSF locomotive derailment, diesel spill, submerged engine removal, and planned protests on a north Idaho river, and a summary of Idaho oil and gas drilling company changes, state audits and private royalties lawsuits, and an upcoming forced pooling hearing. Broadcast for eight years on progressive, volunteer, community station KRFP Radio Free Moscow, every Wednesday between 1:30 and 3 pm Pacific time, on-air at 90.3 FM, online, and later podcast on Radio Free America, the show describes continent-wide, grassroots resistance to fossil fuel projects, the root causes of climate change, thanks to generous, anonymous listeners who have adopted program host Helen Yost as their KRFP DJ.
On Saturday, February 1, please join Wild Idaho Rising Tide (WIRT) climate activists, members, friends, supporters, and allies for rallies and marches in Bonner and Boundary counties, objecting to fossil fuels and hazardous materials train pollution and risks to public and environmental health and safety, and to railroad infrastructure expansions and ongoing incidents increasing these threats, such as the rockslide derailment of two Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) Railway, mixed freight train locomotives onto the banks and submerged and leaking at least 2,100 gallons of diesel fuel and engine oil into the Kootenai River near Moyie Springs, north Idaho, since January 1, 2020.
To commemorate the one-month anniversary of this major environmental disaster, which prompted multiple, emergency response agencies to rescue both a two-person, BNSF crew and a remote, forested, international river, we are gathering at 10 am around the City Beach Park pavilion in Sandpoint, Idaho, for a brief, information sharing rally. Carpooling to the Gateway Visitors Center in Bonners Ferry, Idaho, near the city parking lot off U.S. Highway 2 and 95, we are marching at 11 am and returning to Sandpoint by 1 pm, to accommodate participants attending a later event.
Respond early with your intentions to participate in this protest, bring your friends, family, relevant signs and banners, and warm, winter and rain gear, and contact us if you can assist with sign creation, event transportation, #No2ndBridge petition signatures, and attorney recruitment for a legal challenge insisting on a full, #No2ndBridge, environmental impact study and statement. We are demanding that government agencies enforce the remedial and preventative measures described in this announcement, as we express our resistance to further ecosystem and economic devastation imposed on rural communities, either through disaster or design, by the private profiteers of inherently perilous, fossil fuels pipelines-on-rails. Frontline, WIRT activists and allies will not relent in opposing BNSF bridge and track expansion across Sandpoint, Sand Creek, and almost one mile over Lake Pend Oreille.
Sign the Petition to Deny and Revoke Permits for the BNSF Sandpoint Junction Connector Project, and see the BNSF Kootenai River Wreck and Spill facebook album for almost 70 photos, links to nine previously posted, WIRT articles, and forthcoming updates on fisheries impacts, spill “cleanup,” and engine removal, describing the Kootenai River derailment situation closely scrutinized by WIRT [1, 2]. Local and industry news outlets printed some of the last WIRT newsletter, and we are working on media releases and comments to agencies, offering the dissenting side of this catastrophe story [3, 4].
Regional Fossil Fuels & Hazardous Materials Trains
Across the Idaho Panhandle, BNSF hauls about six each, loaded and residually empty, Powder River Basin coal and Bakken crude oil unit trains every day; Union Pacific carries three-plus Canadian tar sands and Bakken oil unit trains per week; and both pull numerous, fossil fuels and hazardous materials tank cars, intermixed with other freight, daily between interior, hydrocarbon extraction fields and West Coast refineries, power plants, and crude export terminals. Just one derailment of any of these trains could devastate entire communities and watersheds with deadly, explosive, fiery, and inhalation hazard chemicals and toxic cargo spills in the rugged river canyons of north Idaho and western Montana, vulnerable to floods, avalanches, landslides, and wildfires. First responders trained and funded by the perpetrators of anticipated derailments attempt to protect rail line communities from the harms of such tragedies, but they cannot prevent them with emergency preparation. Despite litigation to enforce better railroad procedures, hundreds of pounds of coal dust fly off uncovered coal cars every day, into the regional river sources of socioeconomic vitality.
A Decade of Idaho & Montana Derailments Continue reading
Since late on Wednesday, New Year’s Day, north Idahoans and Wild Idaho Rising Tide (WIRT) have been enduring a major environmental disaster: Two rockslide-derailed, Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) Railway locomotives in the Kootenai River, one nose-down on the bank and one submerged and leaking at least 2,100 gallons of diesel fuel toward a Kootenai Tribe fish restoration hatchery, 2.5 miles downstream, and into the critical habitat of three endangered species (sturgeon, burbot, and bull trout) and private and municipal water sources. Industry-friendly, mainstream media have been repeating and embellishing hero stories about multiple emergency response agencies rescuing the trapped, almost drowned, two-person, BNSF crew with a county sheriff boat, two hours after a BNSF co-worker climbed down the now fully sunk, front engine and sledge-hammered and kicked its window open. But is potential and proven emergency preparedness truly heroic when its enables the further ecosystem and economic devastation imposed on rural communities by private profiteers’ inherently perilous, fossil-fueled railroads?
Early on January 2, hazardous materials and other crews placed oil containment booms and shut down water intake pipes, as precautionary measures at the Kootenai Tribe’s Twin Rivers Hatchery on the Moyie-Kootenai rivers confluence. On Friday, January 3, Boundary County declared a state of emergency and closed the Kootenai River for a week, and then extended the emergency order until February 8 on Monday, January 6, banning all motorized, public boat traffic from the Montana border eight miles upstream of the derailment, to Bonners Ferry eight miles down-current. Belatedly on January 4, Boundary County issued a water quality advisory cautioning residents against direct, river water use during derailment “clean-up” operations. Officials say that the diesel-polluted water is not flammable and does not endanger public health, safety, and drinking water supplies.
Regulating and documenting derailment impacts, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has concluded its incident oversight, calling the spill “minor,” although divers recovered only water from the BNSF locomotive fuel tank and crank case in the river last week, which together held between 2,100 and 5,200 gallons. Spokane television news reporters earlier noticed and videoed oily sheens on the river in Bonners Ferry, among 6,200-plus feet of containment boom placed in the waterway. But the EPA, Idaho Department of Environmental Quality, and Boundary County are testing water every 24 hours in six places, and allowing BNSF employees and contractors to conduct river water sampling for pollution, an activity obviously conflicted by railroad avoidance of fines and legal challenges, not to mention its operation and profit motives that risk further catastrophes.
Do you remember regional citizens’ concerns, during the initial, 2010-11 years of resistance to tar sands mining and refining megaloads on U.S. Highway 12, about a megaload tumbling into the wild and scenic Lochsa and Clearwater rivers and Nez Perce Reservation waters? Predictably, it has happened (again!) in north Idaho, except the megaload is one of hundreds of diesel-spewing, half-million-pound locomotives that daily rampage the shores of three Columbia River basin watersheds — the Kootenai, Pend Oreille, and Spokane — hauling loads as benign as lumber and grain and as deadly as Bakken crude, Canadian tar sands, and other hazardous substances. The same fossil fuels pipeline-on-rails perpetrator that WIRT and #No2ndBridge activists and recently issue-mute, bigger green allies have opposed for its bridge and track expansion over Lake Pend Oreille and Sandpoint, BNSF still has not and perhaps cannot carefully remove its submerged locomotive from the Kootenai River. Without contingency plans for similar, future predicaments, the corporate interloper may abandon its megaload until spring and drag it across the river to sand bars, to dismantle and float it downstream for scrap. Potentially culpable for worker endangerment, river contamination, and indigenous, rare fisheries ruin, BNSF could have prevented or alerted the derailed train operators of the rockslide that caused the wreck, if it had replaced a rock barrier and warning fence in the derailment area, which it removed during rail corridor maintenance several years earlier.
While reviewing, writing, and sharing daily media and WIRT activist articles, insights, and site visit photos during the last few weeks, WIRT has been overwhelmed by grief, outrage, and the voluminous but fact-vacuous, media information about this Kootenai River derailment. BNSF assumes that the mostly complicit Panhandle inhabitants who bear the ongoing pollution and disaster risks of this multi-billion-dollar business will not ask questions or challenge its false narratives or remember its snafus that increasingly offer evidence unfavorable to its Northwest infrastructure and operations expansions. But WIRT is determined to continue our investigation of this instance of inevitable derailments, and to insist that local, state, and federal agencies protect the public trust and watersheds by collecting and analyzing independent data on water quality degraded by the railroad industry. Please contact us if you can assist with ground-truthing the environmental impacts of this corporate crime scene in a canyon constrained by steep cliffs, forested private lands, and the BNSF-requested, extended river closure. We also intend to gather and condense our continuing facebook posts about this situation into an emailed and website-shared newsletter. For now, we have linked those posts and their embedded news articles through this ever-expanding photo compilation: