Burlington Northern Railroad would have us believe that its plans for a locomotive refueling station near Hauser, Idaho, are little more than an idea, a passing fancy - nothing to get worked up about.
Yet, railroad officials already have pitched this notion to Idaho Gov. Phil Batt, the Idaho Division of Environmental Quality, Kootenai County commissioners and area legislators - everyone except, curiously, the Panhandle Health District, the agency responsible for protecting the Spokane-Rathdrum Prairie aquifer. In addition, several state officials say they have seen conceptual drawings that show how Burlington Northern plans to store and protect 1.8 million gallons of diesel fuel above the region’s sole source of drinking water.
All of which leads us to believe that the railroad is doing the region a disservice while playing back-room politics. Too much is at stake to allow the game to continue. Ready or not, Burlington Northern should unveil its plans and ask for public input, as Washington Water Power Co. did four years ago when it proposed an electric generating plant on Rathdrum Prairie.
From the design phase onward, WWP was aboveboard with its future neighbors in the Rathdrum area. WWP officials staged open houses and addressed hostile groups to explain their controversial proposal. Also, the company flew government officials and concerned residents to view a similar plant in Pierce County, Wash.
At the time, division manager Paul Anderson explained why WWP had gone to all the trouble: “We chose to be upfront with the public even during the design phase so we could make changes if necessary. It’s too early in the cycle to have all the answers now.”
WWP made changes, too. It added $5 million to the project’s cost to make it safer and more environmentally sound. In the process, it not only bought extra acres to provide a buffer between it and surrounding properties, but it also set aside money so community leaders could design landscaping to hide the plant.
Ultimately, WWP got permission to build two giant generators, although it was forced to drop plans to use diesel as a backup fuel. The Idaho Public Utilities Commission thought the risk of a fuel spill into the aquifer was too great. In the end, the project was vastly improved thanks to public input and corporate candor.
Now, it’s time for Burlington Northern to measure up to WWP’s high standard of corporate citizenship.
, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = D.F. Oliveria/For the editorial board
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