Northern Idaho officials seek say on Montana coal railroad – Helena Independent Record, Jan. 2, 2015

January 2, 2015

Categories: Agriculture, Coal, Landowner Rights, News

SANDPOINT, Idaho (AP) — Northern Idaho officials are citing environmental laws in asking federal authorities to include the concerns of local communities in reviewing a proposed coal railroad in Montana.

Bonner County commissioners made the request to the federal Surface Transportation Board under the National Environmental Policy Act, the Bonner County Daily Bee reported ( in a story on Thursday. The act requires the federal government to analyze potential environmental effects of a proposed federal action.

Tongue River Railroad officials have proposed a rail line in southern Montana to open huge coal reserves to new mining. The line would connect with other railway lines that cut through Bonner County to take the coal to coastal ports to tap into a growing market for coal in Asia.

Commissioners said the increased coal train traffic could block vehicle traffic at crossings in northern Idaho and slow local commerce as well as delay emergency vehicles. Mitigation measures could include railroad overpasses and underpasses, plus improved crossing safety measures.

“The big point here is that local communities cannot afford to fund the increase in infrastructure costs that are going to be associated with this,” Commissioner Mike Nielsen said.

Commissioner Glen Bailey said railroads should pay more.

“It is both reasonable and prudent for cities, towns, other representative bodies or officials to ask the Surface Transportation Board to use the Tongue River Railroad proceeding to ensure that taxpayers are not footing the bill for industry profits by requiring railroads to pay an increased share for the rail mitigation costs,” Bailey said. “We don’t want to slow commerce, and we don’t want to stop free trade. We like free trade, but it will be bringing a lot of rail traffic through Sandpoint.”

The $403 million proposed rail line is jointly owned by BNSF Railway, Arch Coal Inc. and candy-industry billionaire Forrest Mars Jr. If built, it would open the door to new mines in the Powder River Basin along the Montana-Wyoming border — home to one of the largest coal reserves in the world and the supplier of about 40 percent of the fuel burned in the U.S.

The Surface Transportation Board has previously said it will take until April to complete its draft analysis of the plan.

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