City may renew coal train discussion

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SANDPOINT — The controversial issue of allowing coal trains to pass over Lake Pend Oreiile is set to receive renewed public discussion.

Gary Payton, who represented Idaho in the 50 States United for Healthy Air conference in Washington, D.C., delivered an update about the trip Wednesday for council members. His discussions centered on a planned expansion of the coal industry, which he said would result in 100 million additional tons of coal being shipped in uncovered containers each year over Lake Pend Oreille.

In April of last year, the City Council unanimously passed a resolution opposing coal trains passing through Sandpoint. Payton’s report prompted Councilwoman Carrie Logan to consider discussing a second resolution renewing the city’s opposition.

According to Payton, it’s a gesture well worth considering. He said last year’s resolution spoke volumes when he sat across the table from Sen. Mike Crapo at the 50 States United for Healthy Air event in May. Payton told council members that Crapo was impressed with the unified stance on the issue expressed through the unanimous vote. Conversations just like that took place with many elected officials at the event, which collected ambassadors from every state to advocate for limitations on coal ash, air pollution and carbon pollution.  

Payton said there are several points of concern in allowing coal trains through Sandpoint. First, the shipment via uncovered containers allows dust to blow into the air and the lake, resulting in air and water quality issues. He addedthat the danger of a train derailment into Lake Pend Oreille would be an ecological disaster of nightmarish proportions.

These objections center around plans to expand the coal industry by building new port facilities on the Washington and Oregon coasts, where vast quantities of coal would ship to Asia — primarily China. According to Payton, this would require dozens of additional trains per day, and all would pass through Sandpoint.

Not everyone saw eye to eye with Payton at the meeting. Sandpoint resident Christian Schwab argued that no trains had ever derailed over Lake Pend Oreille in the past and that the coal industry could be a valuable source of jobs.

If the council chooses to pursue a second resolution taking a stand against coal trains, the proposal will likely be discussed at one of next month’s council meetings.

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