Coast Guard releases BNSF bridge EA

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  • (Image courtesy U.S. COAST GUARD) An artist’s rendering of a new BNSF Railway bridge over Bridge Street.

  • 1

    (Photo courtesy U.S. COAST GUARD) A new bridge would parallel the existing railroad bridge across Lake Pend Oreille.

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    (Image courtesy U.S. COAST GUARD) An artist’s rendering of a second bridge across the lake.

  • (Image courtesy U.S. COAST GUARD) An artist’s rendering of a new BNSF Railway bridge over Bridge Street.

  • 1

    (Photo courtesy U.S. COAST GUARD) A new bridge would parallel the existing railroad bridge across Lake Pend Oreille.

  • 2

    (Image courtesy U.S. COAST GUARD) An artist’s rendering of a second bridge across the lake.

New bridge could shutter Dog Beach

SANDPOINT — The second BSNF Railway Co. bridge being proposed across Lake Pend Oreille could end up muzzling Dog Beach.

The Sandpoint Junction Connector’s environmental assessment catalogs recreational amenities within the project area, which includes Dog Beach, a half-acre of shoreline within BNSF’s right of way. The unofficial park is a popular destination for lake visitors with dogs, which are prohibited in certain parks within the city.

The project is not expected to affect any legal recreational land uses.

There could, however, be a change in unsanctioned customary land uses within BNSF right of way, according to the environmental assessment.

The railroad said it may work with users to find alternatives or establish easements, but isn’t guaranteeing continued access.

“BNSF may also request that these unsanctioned uses cease,” the assessment said.

SANDPOINT — The U.S. Coast Guard is releasing a draft environmental assessment on BNSF Railway’s bridge proposals on Lake Pend Oreille.

The 116-page document describes the proposed project, evaluates reasonable and feasible alternatives, and defines the natural, cultural and socioeconomic resources located in the project area.

The document’s release kicks off a 45-day public comment period and triggers a pair of public hearings at the Ponderay Events Center on Wednesday, March 13. The hearings are set for 8 a.m. and 6 p.m.

The Coast Guard may issue a finding of no significant impact or require the preparation of an environmental impact statement, which is a more rigorous form of public review under the National Environmental Policy Act.

“Based on the draft EA, the Coast Guard has tentatively determined the proposed project will pose no significant impacts on the human and natural environment,” Steven Fischer, the Coast Guard’s 13th District bridge manager said in a public notice published alongside the EA on Wednesday.

The Sandpoint Junction Connector project aims to reduce railroad delays that occur in Sandpoint due to the convergence of three rail lines that utilize an existing, single-track bridge across the lake. The bottleneck slows rail traffic in BNSF’s northern tier, a high-volume traffic corridor linking the Midwest with the West Coast.

The Sandpoint Junction Connector proposes two bridges. One 4,874-foot-long bridge would parallel the existing bridge and another 505-foot-long bridge would span Sand Creek.

The assessment addresses concerns raised by the public regarding increased train traffic, spill risks and fugitive dust from coal shipments.

The study holds that it’s unclear if the bridges would increase or decrease train traffic, which is influenced market conditions. The assessment further concludes that the bridges would not increase the risks of a spill and fugitive coal dust would not pose a significant risk to the environment because of loading and unloading protocols have dust countermeasures.

Construction of the bridge could commence this year, the assessment. Construction is anticipated to last three to four years, but could ultimately span five years.

The environmental assessment can be viewed or downloaded in a portable document format at navcen.uscg.gov/index.php (under the Current Operational/Safety Information heading).

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

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