Fossil Fuels Train Pollution Protest Report

Thanks to everyone who attempted and/or considered participation in the Fossil Fuels Train Pollution Protest on Saturday, February 1 [1, 2]!  Wild Idaho Rising Tide (WIRT), #No2ndBridge, and regional climate activists hosted a brief, information-sharing rally and carpool at 10 am at the City Beach Park pavilion in Sandpoint, and a planned march at 11 am from the Gateway Visitors Center in Bonners Ferry, with a return to Sandpoint by 1 pm.  The gatherings in Bonner and Boundary counties raised resistance to fossil fuels and hazardous materials train pollution and risks to public and environmental health and safety, and to ongoing railroad disasters and infrastructure expansions increasing these threats, such as the rockslide derailment, 2,000-gallon diesel leak, and removal of two Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) Railway locomotives in the Kootenai River, and BNSF proposals to double tracks and rail bridges across Sandpoint, Sand Creek, and almost one mile over Lake Pend Oreille.  On BNSF’s Bakken crude oil pipeline-on-rails route across western Montana and north Idaho, both the Kootenai River wreck and the July 1989, tank cars spill of 20,000-plus gallons of still residual diesel into Whitefish Lake serve as warnings that confirm that ALL trains impose inherent hazards along and over water bodies [3].

WIRT activists appreciate Rising Tide North America friends, who shared the WIRT media release about the event on their website, and Sandpoint Reader staff, who printed the protest alert (without “Info:”) in the event-ful calendar on the center pages of the January 30, 2020 issue [4, 5].  WIRT activists are also grateful for Keokee Publishing administrators, who listed the event among Civic Happenings in Sandpoint, one of the Sandpoint Online calendars, and for Kootenai Valley Times editors, who also published our full event announcement and Kootenai River railroad incident coverage [6, 7].  This online news outlet in Bonners Ferry additionally linked the article through a facebook post that received a handful of shares and over 100 mostly derogatory comments [8].

During the week before the protest, besides posting event flyers and sending notices by email, website, facebook, and radio program, WIRT contacted a few core activists and almost 200 Sandpoint and Spokane friends.  We started conversations with everyone who had expressed interest in the event, to explore responses and ideas and to organize participation and carpools in advance, among activists from the Bonners Ferry, Sandpoint, Spokane, and Moscow areas.  Seeking to ensure that at least a few people, especially those with current, transportation obstacles, show up at both protest locations, we offered to provide gas funds for carpoolers who need them, despite WIRT’s poverty.

On Saturday morning, February 1, Sandpoint experienced intense, southwest winds of 20 to 30 miles per hour (mph) and gusts reaching 45 mph, while Fossil Fuels Train Pollution Protest participants gathered inside the open, City Beach Park, picnic pavilion beside Lake Pend Oreille [9].  Known as “snow eaters,” these warm, dry, fast-moving, Chinook winds could vaporize a foot of snow within hours, before it had a chance to melt [10].  Under such breezy conditions, WIRT activists could not display the unwieldy signs and large banners that we brought for the event.  Potential participants either chose not to attend, due to the high wind advisory, or may have driven nearby without noticing the rally or getting out of the dozen vehicles that we saw circle past the pavilion.  For an hour, only bicyclists and pedestrians without vehicles braved the weather and waited against the ferocious winds, for others to arrive at the park.

Without appropriate transportation, we communicated via phone and text messages with Bonners Ferry residents, who had contacted WIRT with their concerns soon after the BNSF locomotive derailment and diesel spill into the Kootenai River.  Expressing appreciation for their efforts toward on-site participation, and apologies that their regional neighbors did not come north, we alerted them of relatively absent, Sandpoint protesters and of our difficulty finding rides to the march.  One of our Bonners Ferry contacts arrived late (at 11:20 am) to the meeting spot, and reported that it was also extremely windy and starting to rain there, that few pro-protest folks attended or already left, and that we missed the Bonners Ferry Herald and other press.  She also verified the assertions of an insulting, facebook comment that a counter-protest by one to two dozen community members and Bonners Ferry and BNSF police “were waiting just to clean up the trash off our streets” [11].

According to the Bonners Ferry Herald, this commemoration of the one-month anniversary of the BNSF Kootenai River derailment attracted a group of local, Boundary County residents, who referred to themselves as anti-protesters [12].  They gathered in the parking lot near the Bonners Ferry visitor center, and waited almost an hour for the scheduled, WIRT and allied march to begin.  Although weather and transportation deterred Sandpoint activists, who ultimately cancelled their part in the march, this news did not reach anti-protesters, who “had come for different reasons, most in support of the railroad, while some came with [unanswered] questions, wanting to know where the activists obtained their information, believing it to be inaccurate” [12].  They slowly dispersed, while Boundary County and BNSF police, also unaware of changed plans, “patrolled downtown Bonners Ferry, to make sure that nothing got out of control,…[as] ‘BNSF respects everyone’s right to safely exercise their constitutional rights’” [12].

Can you imagine more fellow Idaho citizens amassing to confront a protest and defend the source of a 2,000-gallon hazmat spill in their river, than earnest activists converging to voice public concerns about railroad pollution of regional waterways?  For once, WIRT walked away all smiles from the usually disappointing protest turn-outs.  We cannot understand such apathy and animosity, but we are thankful for the gifts of extraordinarily fierce breezes and other factors that reigned in recently renewed, good-spirited, work energy and courage, and spared us from no-shows and naysayers in small, north Idaho towns complicit in present and probable train catastrophes.  WIRT is pleased with protest outcomes from the perspectives of intensifying frontline resistance, honoring water protector solidarity and safety, and improving public involvement in railroad issues among trackside and downstream communities.

We will continue to oppose the fossil fuel sources of climate change and human rights violations, in any ways that we can, as we aim to engage multiple conversations discussing common concerns and tactics, to share ongoing, community updates about pertinent situations, to invite assistance with site visits obtaining photos and water samples, and to always welcome resistance through direct actions that predictably remain our only recourse to corporate hegemony [13-15].  In the wake of almost ten years of frontline, fossil fuels battles in Idaho and the Northwest, and the recent dismissal of the #No2ndBridge struggle by local courts and conservation groups, we are eager to prevent further railroad and industrial harms to rural communities.  For more extensive and forthcoming information, please visit the WIRT facebook and website pages, and respond with your sincere insights on growing the regional, climate change movement.  We hope to see you at the next WIRT event!

[1] Fossil Fuels Train Pollution Protest, January 27, 2020 Wild Idaho Rising Tide

[2] Fossil Fuels Train Pollution Protest, January 27, 2020 Wild Idaho Rising Tide

[3] Oil and Water Don’t Mix: Glacier National Park and the Flathead Watershed under Threat, 2016 Alexandra Christy

[4] Sandpoint, ID: Protest of Fossil Fuels Train Pollution, January 30, 2020 Rising Tide North America

[5] Sandpoint Reader in Print, January 30, 2020 Sandpoint Reader

[6] Civic Happenings in Sandpoint, January 30, 2020 Sandpoint Online

[7] BNSF Derailment Protest Planned Saturday, January 30, 2020 Kootenai Valley Times

[8] Wild Idaho Rising Tide (WIRT), #No2ndBridge, and regional climate activists…, January 30, 2020 Kootenai Valley Times

[9] Windstorm Wallops Bonner County, February 2, 2020 Bonner County Daily Bee

[10] What Are Chinook Winds? April 28, 2017 Live Science

[11] WIRT activists appreciate the Kootenai Valley Times…, January 31, 2020 Wild Idaho Rising Tide

[12] Counter-Protesters Gather in Bonners Ferry, February 6, 2020 Bonners Ferry Herald

[13] BNSF Locomotives in River, USCAN & WIRT Meetings, #No2ndBridge Petition, Frontline Support, January 13, 2020 Wild Idaho Rising Tide

[14] BNSF Kootenai River Wreck & Spill 1-1-20, January 2, 2020 Wild Idaho Rising Tide

[15] Help, I’ve Been Colonized and I Can’t Get Up (Take a Lawyer and an Expert to a Hearing and Call Me in a Decade…), 1998 Democracy Theme Park

6 thoughts on “Fossil Fuels Train Pollution Protest Report

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