Calls for bridge EIS resurface

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PONDERAY — The U.S. Coast Guard took in roughly three hours of testimony on a proposal to build a second set of BNSF Railway bridges across Lake Pend Oreille and Sand Creek on Wednesday.

The most common refrain during the morning and evening public hearing — require a more rigorous analysis through a National Environmental Policy Act environmental impact statement.

“An EIS is the logical first step,” said Andrew Kennaly of First Presbyterian Church in Sandpoint, an Earth-care congregation.

The BNSF bridge proposal is currently subject to a less stringent environmental assessment under NEPA, which most of whom testified during the hearing argued was an inadequate review given how easily the lifeblood of Bonner County could be poisoned by a train derailment involving crude oil or hazardous materials.

Pleas for an EIS were repeated during last year’s hearings for an Idaho Department of Lands encroachment permit, although those pleas ultimately fell on deaf ears.

Matt Nykiel of the Idaho Conservation League, which hasn’t taken a position yet on the bridge proposal, said the EA is too light on specifics regarding impacts.

“This project really does deserve time for us to give a good hard look,” Nykiel said during the morning hearing.

Seven people testified during the morning hearing, with none voicing outright support for the new span. More than 20 people testified during the evening hearing, with most raising concerns or opposition. A few people, however, testified in favor of the bridges.

Ron Lynch, who represented a Spokane laborer’s union, said the new bridges would alleviate road and rail congestion and limit the number of tractor-trailers hauling freight on roadways.

“We believe the project will be developed in a reasonable way,” Lynch said during the evening hearing.

For a full story on the hearings, see Friday’s edition of the Bonner County Daily Bee.

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

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