North Idaho Counties Plan For Oil Spills As Rail Traffic Increases

Sep 24, 2014

Crude oil trains travel across northern Idaho at least twice a day.
Credit Jessica Robinson / Northwest News Network

Three northern Idaho counties are creating strategies for containing an oil spill as more oil is moving through the inland Northwest on trains.

Trains carry crude oil from North Dakota across the Idaho Panhandle at least twice a day. They run along lakes and rivers, and sometimes cross right over the water.

That’s made local emergency response managers in Boundary, Bonner and Kootenai counties even more nervous about what would happen if a train derailed.

Sandy Von Behren is the emergency manager in Kootenai County. She says they’re developing a detailed geographic response plan like the ones the Puget Sound area and the Columbia River Basin have had for years. They want to protect places like the Kootenai River and Lake Pend Oreille.

“If the release is into a waterway and there’s no access we would be able to look at the maps and look at what’s the next place we can go to access that," Von Behren says. "And also where are the most available resources that are quick and close by.”

The plan would also consider spills that come from boats and highway traffic, as well as leaks in underground oil pipelines.

The Northwest’s region-wide strategy for dealing with oil spills has come under fire from conservation groups. This month, Friends of the Columbia Gorge and the Center for Biological Diversity notified the Environmental Protection Agency and the Coast Guard they intend to file a lawsuit if the federal agencies don’t make changes. The groups say disaster planning hasn’t kept pace with the number of tanker cars moving through the Northwest.

In Washington, the Department of Ecology is also developing detailed oil spill response plans in areas that haven’t had them before, including Moses Lake and the Duwamish River.

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