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News >  Idaho

Sandpoint officials discuss coal and oil trains behind closed doors

Associated Press
SANDPOINT, Idaho (AP) — City officials in Sandpoint are defending banning the public from a meeting about oil and coal train traffic attended by three area mayors, a state senator, county commissioner and officials from the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality. “No actions were taken,” Sandpoint Mayor Carrie Logan told the Bonner County Daily Beeabout the Thursday meeting. “It was just an informational meeting trying to clarify and identify risks.” Sandpoint city attorney Scot Campbell said the meeting didn’t have to be open to the public because only one county commissioner and one council member were present. The closed meeting was held on the same day Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden visited the city to educate officials about Idaho’s open meeting laws. According to an agenda obtained by the newspaper, the closed meeting included presentations from representatives with the Idaho Conservation League and Lake Pend Oreille Waterkeeper, which is headed by Sandpoint Councilwoman Shannon Williamson. Typically, requirements for a closed meeting include labor negotiations, personnel matters and pending litigation. Train traffic is of concern to area residents because the region is dealing with increased coal and oil train traffic. The one bridge now at Sandpoint handles about one train every half-hour, a bottleneck for Burlington Northern Santa Fe’s Hi-Line that connects the Pacific Northwest to the Midwest. Montana Rail Link trains also use the single-track bridge that crosses Lake Pend Oreille where it meets the Pend Oreille River. Officials with BNSF want to build a second bridge to handle an expected increase in traffic that includes coal and oil trains. Logan has previously said she’s concerned that another bridge, plus plans to add about a mile of parallel tracks through Sandpoint, would increase rail traffic through the city. She said that increases the risk of a train mishap that could lead to deaths or a spill that could pollute drinking water. Residents are also complaining about the constant sounding of train horns that result in a loss to quality of life in town. That has led city officials to consider proposing a railroad quiet zone. The Federal Railroad Administration would have to approve any request for a quiet zone. Should a quiet zone be created, six railway crossings would have to be outfitted with safety equipment. Meanwhile in Sandpoint on Thursday, about 75 people attended Wasden’s workshop on open meeting laws. “It’s important that we have an understanding about how to access information in our government,” Wasden told The Spokesman-Review. “It’s really important, and the reason for that is the greatest strength in our system is public involvement.”
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