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BNSF Railroad moves ahead in project for second railroad bridge at Lake Pend Oreille;
Department of Lands schedules public hearings
March 21, 2018
BNSF Railroad continues to move ahead in its efforts to obtain necessary permits to build a second railroad bridge across Lake Pend Oreille, which would run adjacent to the current train bridge across the lake. The Idaho Department of Lands, one of the agencies from which the railroad needs to obtain clearance and approval, set May 23 as their date for public hearings on the application received from BNSF Railway Co. to construct the bridge.

Department of Lands Hearing Scheduled
The Idaho Department of Public Lands has set two sessions for public hearings on the application, those sessions to be held on May 23, 2018 as follows:

Wednesday, May 23, 2018
First session: 8:00 AM Pacific - Ponderay Events Center, 401 Bonner Mall Way, Suite E, Ponderay ID
Second session: 6:00 PM Pacific - Sandpoint Middle School Gymnasium, 310 S. Division, Sandpoint ID

Idaho Department of Lands officially extended the public comment period to be open for nearly 90 days, instead of the usual 30 days. "IDL is required to accept public comments for 30 days," said Department of Lands information officer Sharla Arledge, "but the comment period will be open for close to 90 days to give the public, agencies, and neighboring landowners more time to evaluate the application and submit comments."

As the administrator of the Idaho Lake Protection Act, the Idaho Department of Lands regulates encroachments and activities on, in, or above navigable lakes in the State of Idaho. Therefore BNSF Railway Company must obtain a permit from IDL under the Idaho Lake Protection Act and corresponding administrative rules before project construction can begin.

Public commenting, how you can comment, samples of current public comments
Comments from the public can be submitted to the Idaho Department of Lands via e-mail at:

Or comments can be submitted through the IDL web site at this link:

As noted above, public comments will be accepted through May 23, 2018, the same date as the public hearings announced above.

The BNSF application to the Idaho Department of Lands, public comments received so far on the application, and other information are available for viewing on the IDL web site which you can see by clicking here.

BNSF Railway has also submitted required applications to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, to the Thirteenth Coast Guard District, and to the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality, all required by law prior to the bridge being approved and constructed.

Samples of some of the public comments
As of the date this article is written, there are approximately 70 public comments listed on the IDL website above. On our NewsBF review of those comments, the great majority of them are canned, boilerplate, word-for-word, identical statements submitted by individuals from around the country, which implies that they were submitted as the result of a campaign to encourage people to submit a comment, all of them submitting the exact same suggested comment.  Most of those seem to be from the state of Washington.

However, a few independent and original comments are noted, including the following:

• From Joan Sutton of Sagle:
"I sincerely hope BNSF will be allowed to build the second bridge across Lake Pend 'Oreille. The original bridge is over 100 yrs old and trains must constantly stop to allow for trains coming the other way. They have done no damage to the lake in all these years and those protestors are just ridiculous."

• From Judith Butler of Hope:
"I am writing to oppose the Sandpoint Junction Connector project and urge you to do the same. A second track, “passing lane” for trains should be done over land not water where the damage from a spill would be far greater."

• Frank Ferris of Nucla, Colorado:
"Since energy is the basis for our standard of life, I support energy related projects (2nd bridge) and I strongly urge your timely approval of the project’s necessary permits."

• From Royal and Jana Shields of Sagle:
"This email is regarding the building of a 2nd bridge for the BNSF across Lake Pend Oreille. My family has lived within a half mile of the existing bridge for over 40 years. We would like to go on record as being in favor of a second bridge to help alleviate the bottle neck of backed up trains. We have witnessed the construction of the recent replacement piling on the existing bridge approach and continuous maintenance."

• Bridger Mahlum of Helena, Montana:
"As Government Relations Director of the Montana Chamber of Commerce, I write on behalf of the Montana Chamber in strong support of the construction of the Sandpoint Junction Connector Project. The positive economic ripple effect in the Pacific Northwest as a result of this project will be resounding: increased trade for countless industries, more efficient product shipments, and a boost in tourism with additional passenger trains. Workplace safety is also a top priority for the Montana Chamber, and the efficiencies created by the Sandpoint Junction project will improve the safety of train traffic in the region. Therefore, we urge swift approval of the permits needed for construction.

Infrastructure investment is a core objective of the Montana Chamber's 10-year strategic plan, Envision 2026. Increasing rail commerce, especially at the initiative of BNSF Railway to privately fund the project, makes the Sandpoint Junction proposal an easy decision for economic prosperity."

• Ben Olson, town not listed:
"I am writing to express my opposition to a proposal by Burlington Northern Sante Fe to build a second rail bridge over Lake Pend Oreille. Here are my reasons for not wanting this second rail bridge:
[Note from NewsBF:  Mr. Olson then goes on to list 5 reasons for which he is opposed to the bridge, with additional detail accompanying each reason in his letter, which is complete and thorough but unfortunately a little too long for inclusion here. His full comment is available at the website noted above.  He then goes on to say:]

I urge you to not award this second rail bridge permit. I was born and raised in Sandpoint and love this area so much - to jeopardize our lake's health and our town's economy is not worth it. NO to the second rail bridge."

Details and some history on the proposal for the new bridge
The proposed second bridge will stand just west of and run parallel to the current single-track train bridge, which lies near Sandpoint's automotive Long Bridge, on U.S. Highway 95.

BNSF railway had originally begun its formal plans for a second railroad bridge across Lake Pend Oreille in 2014. Overall, the idea remained somewhat quiescent from a public perspective, and at one point in 2015 the company indicated the project was being put on hold, at least temporarily. “Eventually we will add another bridge,” BNSF spokesman Gus Malonas said at the time.

Last year, action on the new bridge proposal was revived, when the company announced in April that it was moving ahead with the project, formally known as the Sandpoint Junction Connector project. Progress on the work's initial stages moved forward in 2017, with more plan development, work toward obtaining necessary permits, and testing necessary for construction, including driving pilings into the Dog Beach area of the lake last summer to test load-bearing capacities. “Bringing [the project] forward now allows us to adequately handle current and future rail traffic,” said a BNSF press release issued last April, adding that the project would add needed capacity to the rail system now and into the future.

The plan is for a bridge and tracks that will allow trains to pass in both directions on the new bridge. This would ease pressure through what is currently somewhat of a train-route bottleneck at the bridge, as engineers currently need to slow or stop to await clearance to cross the current Lake Pend Oreille railroad bridge. Railroad traffic from BNSF and Montana Rail Link converge in Sandpoint and cross at the current bridge.

The current railroad bridge at Lake Pend Oreille was originally built in 1904 for the Northern Pacific Railway, a transcontinental railroad that originally operated across the northern tier of the western United States.

Burlington Northern Santa Fe, LLC, with headquarters in Fort Worth, Texas, is the parent company of BNSF. The BNSF Railway Company is the second largest freight railroad network in North America, behind Union Pacific Railroad. The company has 41,000 employees, and 32,500 miles of track in 28 states.  BNSF reported full year operating income of  $7.3 billion for the year 2017. The company's presence in the state of Idaho is concentrated in the northern half of the state.

BNSF parent company Burlington Northern Santa Fe, LLC, and BNSF Railway are owned by Berkshire Hathaway, Inc., whose chairman and CEO is well-known investor and financier Warren Buffet.  Berkshire Hathaway acquired the railway companies in 2010.
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