Letter: A majority supports EIS for Sandpoint rail proposal

Letter: A majority supports EIS for Sandpoint rail proposal
BNSF Railway photo
Should Sandpoint really have a second bridge over Lake Pend Oreille?

More than 2,660 people submitted comments to the U.S. Coast Guard overwhelmingly in support of an Environmental Impact Statement to more closely analyze BNSF Railway's second rail bridge over Lake Pend Oreille. After two public comment periods and two public hearings, nearly 2,700 people want to hear more about the proposal and how it could impact our public safety and drinking water, among many other precious local resources.

Despite BNSF's election-style media blitz, about 1,000 fewer people submitted comments supporting the railway's second bridge without an EIS. Lake Pend Oreille, the environment, and the local economy the lake supports are simply too precious and vulnerable to risk from a proposal that involves the transportation of crude oil, coal and other hazardous substances over open water and through public spaces.

For the past year, our community has overwhelmingly and consistently requested that BNSF provide an EIS to more completely disclose the anticipated impacts of its second bridge proposal. Considering BNSF's resistance to this reasonable request, you might think the sky is falling and that adding a second bridge cannot wait a second longer.

Remember, plans for BNSF's second rail bridge first surfaced in 2014. Had BNSF begun the EIS process five years ago, it may well have been able to alleviate the public's concerns and begun construction by now. But that's not the track BNSF chose, and the community that stands to bear all the impacts of transporting hazardous materials by rail should not be blamed or ridiculed for respectfully requesting patience and more information.

A derailment of crude oil would devastate Lake Pend Oreille and our community. This concern isn't a scare tactic as some would have us believe. At least four trains in North Idaho derailed in spring 2017 alone, and our sister communities, like Mosier, Oregon, and Lac-Mégantic, Québec, have sadly experienced the damaging and deadly results of oil derailments.

Sandpoint and its neighboring rail line communities can avoid being the next Mosier or Lac-Mégantic, and we deserve to be informed of the risks associated with another rail bridge. An EIS will help our community better understand how to keep our families and our water safe.

The decision to move forward with an EIS now rests with the Coast Guard. We encourage the Coast Guard to listen to an overwhelming majority of those who commented because transparency is critical to those who stand to be affected.

Matt Nykiel, Idaho Conservation League
Sandpoint, Idaho