North Idaho Brainstorms Strategies for Potential Oil Spill Clean-Up

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An oil train passes by the Deschutes River. - OREGONLIVE
  • OregonLive
  • An oil train passes by the Deschutes River.
With an increase in rail traffic carrying crude oil from North Dakota, three northern Idaho counties are starting to create strategies to contain a possible oil spill. Boise State Public Radio reports that the trains carrying crude oil cross the Idaho Panhandle at least twice a day, traveling along lakes and rivers and over bridges. 

Emergency response managers in Boundary, Bonner and Kootenai counties are nervous about what would happen if a train derailed. Kootenai County's emergency manager Sandy Von Behren told BSPR that her county is developing a detailed geographic response plan similar to plans that exist in the Puget Sound area and Columbia River Basin. Her county wants to make sure places like the Kootenai River and Lake Pend Oreille is protected.

The developing strategies would let emergency managers quickly handle a spill that takes place in an inaccessible waterway by nailing down the closest point of access. 

"And also where are the most available resources that are quick and close by," Von Behren said. The plans will also consider spills coming from boats and highway traffic, as well as leaks in underground oil pipes.

This revamping of oil spill action plans comes after the northwest's region-wide strategy for dealing with such emergencies came under sharp criticism from conservation groups. Friends of the Columbia Gorge and the Center for Biological Diversity notified the Environmental Protection Agency and the Coast Guard this month that they intend to sue if the federal agencies don't make changes.

"Oil trains pose an enormous danger we can't overlook," Jared Margolis, an attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, told OregonLive. "We need spill response plans that acknowledge that risk and protect vulnerable wildlife."

The groups claim emergency response plans haven't been updated to handle increased tanker cars moving across the region.

"This report [from the U.S. Government Accountability Office] underscores the fact that the Department of Transportation is moving far too slowly to protect lives and safeguard our environment," said Mollie Matteson, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity in a news release. "We can't afford to wait another five years."