The Idaho Department of Lands(IDL) is seeking public comments on a permit application received from BNSF Railway Co. to construct a second train bridge adjacent to and west of the existing train bridge across Lake Pend Oreille.


The long-discussed project, which BNSF Railway has proposed to improve rail traffic flow throughout town, recently went back into active development after being put on hold for several years. The application for permitting through the Corps of Engineers marks the beginning of the project’s public comment process, which is currently slated to last for 30 days.


Kootenai Environmental Alliance, Lake Pend Oreille Waterkeeper and Idaho Conservation League have all requested an extension of the comment period to 120 days as well as 3 hearings in Sandpoint (2 before the draft EA and 1 after).  We are asking those concerned in our community to get in touch with the Bonner County Commissioners, State Representatives, and Lakes Commission Board Members to request a public comment period extension and local hearings. We are also asking that a full EIS is conducted rather than an EA. Comment period ends on March 30, 2018.


A second rail bridge over Lake Pend Oreille could double the current rail traffic.  This increase in rail traffic could lead to an increase in accidents in our watershed.  Last year alone we saw 67 rail cars from three separate train accidents derail within our region, one of which was a coal car derailment along the Clark Fork River.  Derailments not only can have a detrimental effect on our environment, but also could be life threatening depending on the cargo.  Light crude oil is extremely flammable and dangerous in case of a spill.


The south end of Lake Pend Oreille lies over the Spokane Valley-Rathdrum Prairie Aquifer.  Lake Pend Oreille is one of the major contributors to recharging of the aquifer. This aquifer is the sole source of water for most people in Spokane County, Washington and Kootenai County.  It is the only affordable source of drinking water in a bi-state region serving water to more than 500,000 people every day.


Oil spills are hard to contain and it is uncertain our communities are fully prepared to address the environmental cleanup from an oil spill into Lake Pend Oreille.  Additionally, coal dust released from rail cars can introduce lead, arsenic and mercury into our watershed as they travel through our area.  Inhalation of coal dust can also expose individuals to toxic heavy metals and increase asthma.  The air pollution from coal dust and diesel exhaust can lead to many detrimental health effects including cardiovascular disease, lung cancer and more.


The application is available online and comment period is open through March 30, 2018.  Comments can be submitted via e-mailed or to the IDL website.