BNSF applies for permit for second rail bridge over lake

By Cameron Rasmusson
Reader Staff

BNSF Railway has filed its application with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for a second rail 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.

Local conservation organizations like Idaho Conservation League and Lake Pend Oreille Waterkeeper have been wary of a second rail bridge since the project proposal first surfaced years ago. Spokespersons for the organizations say that the increased rail traffic allowed by the second bridge boost the likelihood that a derailment will spill a hazardous substance near or into the lake.

A pile of rusty equipment sits at Dog Beach with the train bridge in the background. Photo by Ben Olson.

“As the Lake Pend Oreille Waterkeeper, I will be requesting an extension of the public comment period as it is only 30 days,” wrote Lake Pend Oreille Waterkeeper Executive Director Shannon Williamson in an email to Sandpoint officials. “I will also request that a public hearing is held in Sandpoint. There are numerous agencies involved and I plan to submit my request to all of them. Other stakeholders will be doing so as well.”

In 2015, the second rail bridge went quiet when BNSF announced the project had been put on hold. Company spokespersons said BNSF was focusing on other choke points in the rail network until the project became more financially feasible.

The project came back to the forefront last year when BNSF announced it was moving forward on the project. The goal was to build out maximum capacity for train traffic well into the future, BNSF officials said. Last late spring and summer, the company prepared for its application by driving pilings into the lake to test load-bearing capacity, a process that raised security fencing around BNSF property at Dog Beach.

The second rail bridge is likely to be a contentious proposal within Sandpoint. BNSF officials say the second bridge will help alleviate wait times caused by rail traffic in town. However, with train traffic estimated to double in the area by 2035, Sandpoint officials and conservation activists worry the convenience carries a higher risk of a disastrous accident.

To comment on the issue, mail feedback to:

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, Idaho 83814-2676

Or email: [email protected]

Comments must be received by the deadline of March 28.

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