Community braces for oil train impacts

By Cameron Rasmusson

Reader Staff


The national economy might run on oil, but for Sandpoint, the energy source could also be its undoing.

About 75 regional residents turned out Wednesday evening to hear the latest on oil train threats from a panel of conservation and public safety professionals, who said vigilance is important to maintain safety.

“It’s going to happen eventually in Bonner County where we’ll have to deal with some kind of incident,” said Ron Stocking, Sandpoint and Sagle fire chief. “Hopefully it will be a minor one.”

According to Eric de Place,  policy director at the Seattle sustainability nonprofit Sightline Institute, oil tankers are already a common sight in Sandpoint and are only projected to increase. That’s worrisome considering a number of derailments and explosions in the past years, including a 2013 explosion in Quebec that killed 47 people.

“The reason we are seeing so many derailments is because we are running so many crude oil trains,” de Place said.

Stocking said the city is preparing emergency plans in the event a derailment occurs, with human life, property conservation and environmental protection the top three priorities.

Meanwhile, Sandpoint Councilwoman and Lake Pend Oreille Waterkeeper Director Shannon Williamson said the city was eyeing developments on a potential second rail bridge over the lake. Projected for construction in 2018 at the earliest, the bridge would require a public comment period before authorization if the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers requires a special permit. Council members have formally requested this special permit, Williamson said.

“Since this project is so far afield, we don’t know what the Army Corps will do, but the request has been made,” Williamson said.

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