- Associated Press - Thursday, December 18, 2014

COEUR D’ALENE, Idaho (AP) - Local governments in northern Idaho are taking a close look at their emergency preparedness plans to see if they adequately address the growing number of oil trains rumbling through their communities.

The Spokesman-Review (https://bit.ly/1uXq1ff ) reports that officials in the region will use a $36,000 federal grant to assess the risk and update emergency action plans.

On average, two to three loaded oil trains travel along the Kootenai River and pass through Bonners Ferry and Sandpoint every day. The trains cross Lake Pend Oreille before following U.S. Highway 95 west into Washington state.

Public buildings, fish hatcheries, water intakes and other community resources are dotted along the route, and the grant will help the rural communities identify what could be at risk if an oil train derails or spills cargo.

“Cargo being transported through our counties is always changing,” said Bob Howard, Bonner County’s emergency management director.

Prior planning is the key to an effective response, Howard said. When a barge sunk on the Pend Oreille River last summer, gas leaking from the vessel was quickly contained. Emergency responders were working from a plan that identified where the containment booms and absorbent pads were located, he said.

Kootenai, Bonner and Boundary counties have hired a consultant to update their emergency response plans. The Coeur d’Alene Tribe, Kootenai Tribe of Idaho and three railroads operating in the region - BNSF Railway, Montana Rail Link and Union Pacific, are also involved in the effort.

BNSF is also updating its own emergency plan, and next year will put trailers with containment booms, absorbent pads and other equipment along the route in Sandpoint and Bonners Ferry, BNSF spokesman Gus Melonas said.

Thousands of shipments of hazardous material pass through the region each year, Howard noted, and spills are extremely rare. But a string of fiery oil train derailments in North America over the past 18 months has heightened community awareness of rail shipments of volatile crude from the Bakken oil fields of eastern Montana and North Dakota. A recent Washington state study found that the volume of oil transported by rail could triple within the next five years.

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Information from: The Spokesman-Review, https://www.spokesman.com


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