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SANDPOINT, Idaho (AP) — An additional railway bridge across Lake Pend Oreille in northern Idaho would double rail traffic, increasing the chances of derailments of crude oil and coal shipments, a water advocacy group said.

The group Lake Pend Oreille Waterkeeper is calling on state and federal officials to extend the public comment period for the planned BNSF Railway bridge across the lake, so its potential effects can be better analyzed, the Bonner County Daily Bee reported Thursday.

More shipments over the lake also would threaten water quality from the coal and coal dust that’s released from the open rail cars, said Shannon Williamson, executive director of the organization.

While county authorities have a response plan to contain hazardous spills, the group said it still would be catastrophic.

“Our communities are not prepared to address the environmental fallout from a coal or train derailment into Lake Pend Oreille,” Williamson said in the group’s comments to the Idaho Department of Lands.

The group contends the additional rail traffic would pose risks to threatened bull trout. The risk of collisions at railroad crossings would increase as well as traffic delays, the group said.

The Bonner County Emergency Medical Services said a second bridge would allow it to respond quicker because personnel are already routinely stopped at crossings by trains waiting for traffic to clear on the existing bridge.

“With the addition of the second bridge, BSNF will be able to greatly alleviate the block of streets in Sandpoint and adjacent areas,” said Bob Bussey, the agency’s chief.


Information from: Bonner County (Idaho) Daily Bee,