SANDPOINT — Plans for a second BNSF Railway bridge across Lake Pend Oreille are being reviewed by state and federal agencies.
If approved by state and federal resource managers, construction on the 2.2-mile span paralleling the existing bridge could start in the fall, according to a public notice published by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The deadline to comment on the corps permit is Wednesday, March 28.
BNSF Railway said in 2016 that it was considering a second bridge linking Sandpoint and Sagle to alleviate bottleneck conditions on the 110-year-old bridge on the east side the U.S. Highway 95 Long Bridge.
At the time, BNSF Railway officials said as many as 50 trains were passing through Sandpoint every 24 hours and forecasted that it would reached record volumes ahead of schedule.
“The project need is based on continued growth of freight rail service between the Midwest (Chicago Terminus) and the West Coast,” BNSF said in a permit application on file with the Idaho Department of Lands.
The new bridge would be located 50 feet west of the existing span. As many as 700 24-inch steel pilings would be installed to support the new bridge, according to the permit application.
The bridge proposal has drawn the opposition of the Wild Idaho Rising Tide, which contends the span will ultimately exacerbate climate change because it will facilitate the trade of domestic coal and oil products.
No public hearings on the BNSF permit request are scheduled, although the public may formally request one. The project is being reviewed against the National Environmental Policy Act. An environmental assessment, as opposed to a more rigorous environmental impact statement, is being prepared for the bridge project, federal records show.
The project is also under review by the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality, Idaho Department of Lands and the Coeur d’Alene, Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribes. The Idaho Department of Lands has posted the 254-page application, which includes architectural renderings and technical specifications, to its website.
The project would permanently discharge 11,220 cubic yards of rock into 1.2 acres of waters. More than a quarter acre of wetlands would be permanently filled, although BNSF seeks to offset that impact by purchasing wetland mitigation credits from the Valencia Wetland Mitigation Bank in Priest River.
Comments on the corps permit should be directed to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Walla Walla District, Attn: Shane Slate, Coeur d’Alene Regulatory Office, 1910 Northwest Boulevard, Suite 210, Coeur d’Alene, ID. 83814-2676. They can also be emailed to NWW_BNSF_Pendoreille@usace.army.mil
Keith Kinnaird can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @KeithDailyBee.