Group appeals BNSF bridge permit

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SANDPOINT — An environmental group is appealing an Idaho Department of Lands encroachment permit that was granted for a second BNSF Railway Co. bridge across Lake Pend Oreille.

Wild Idaho Rising Tide filed the action in 1st District Court on Friday, court records show.

Helen Yost of WIRT, which challenges the root causes of climate change through community action, argues that the project jeopardizes water resources, air quality, wildlife habitat, indigenous rights, navigation, tourism and recreation.

WIRT further argues that a second span across the lake will increase noise and pollution, in addition to the potential for accidents and derailments involving fossil fuels and hazardous materials.

WIRT contends IDL’s final order approving the permit presents insufficient evidence that the state has adequately examined and considered concerns about the bridge and was too deferential to an 154-year-old congressional act which paved the way for rail and telegraph development between Lake Superior and the Puget Sound and gave railroad companies “unsual power.”

“Through the final and preliminary orders’ apparent dismissal of local concerns over this project, railroad pursuit of profit, at the expense of rail line communities’ environmental and economic wellbeing, unfortunately persist in the Idaho Panhandle, in stark contrast to state of Idaho obligations to uphold the public trust,” Yost said in the 12-page appeal.

The appeal also alleges that the project will increase inorganic, volatile organic and synthetic organic chemicals in the lake, which serves as the source of drinking water for nearly 10,000 people in the Sandpoint area.

The legal action is calling for a judicial review of the permit’s issuance.

Sharla Arledge released the following statement on behalf of IDL on Wednesday:

“IDL has received a copy of the Petition for Judicial Review filed by Wild Idaho Rising Tide, and is in the process of reviewing the Petition. IDL will determine the next steps to be taken based upon the applicable provisions of the Idaho Administrative Procedure Act, the Lake Protection Act, and the Idaho Rules of Civil Procedure.”

Although the second bridge has its fair share of critics, it also has its fair share of staunch supporters who argue the new span will facilitate commerce and reduce blockages of at-grade railroad crossings in Bonner County.

Keith Kinnaird can be reached by email at kkinnaird@bonnercountydailybee.com and follow him on Twitter @KeithDailyBee.

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