Roughly a year after they first voiced their opposition to a railroad's plan to use bombs to defuse avalanche danger along the southern flanks of Glacier National Park, park officials are reiterating that opposition.
Wrapping up their tweaking of a final Environmental Impact Statement on Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway's request to bomb avalanche chutes above their tracks, Glacier officials say no "substantial changes" were made to the draft EIS released last summer. The park received 13,400 comments on the DEIS, with public comment overwhelmingly in favor of the preferred alternative.
That preferred alternative recommends that Burlington Northern build less than one mile of new snowsheds to protect the tracks from slides.
Burlington Northern officials, in the wake of a 2004 avalanche that caused a derailment along Glacier's southern border, initiated the park's production of the EIS after seeking permission to lob 105 mm explosives at key avalanche chutes in the area of Scalplock, Running Rabbit, Snowslip and Mount Shields mountains in John Stevens Canyon along Glacier's southern boundary.
Snowsheds along the tracks long have been used by railroads to shield trains from slides, but the use of explosives is seen as considerably less expensive than maintaining the sheds. With freight trains running daily past Glacier, hauling upwards of 33,000 container cars a day to and from the Northwest, this section of track is a key route to keep open for commerce. Just the same, the landscape targeted for bombing by the railroad is inside a national park and home to grizzly bears, mountain goats, wolverines, wolves, bald eagles, and other wildlife.
In addition to calling for more snowsheds, the preferred alternative would allow the railroad to install a weather station and non-explosive avalanche detection devices in the park to support and improve their avalanche forecasting program.
Explosive use would be permitted in the event of an emergency.
“We are grateful for the overwhelming public response that we received in support of the preferred alternative," said Glacier Superintendent Chas Cartwright. "Glacier National Park is the world’s first international peace park, a biosphere reserve and a world heritage site. This area of the park contains federally listed threatened and endangered species, is within the park’s recommended wilderness, provides winter recreation for park visitors and is important winter range for elk, deer and other ungulate species.
"The preferred alternative would best protect park values and resources. Snowsheds offer the best protection for BNSF’s employees, equipment and freight.”
Under normal channels, 30 days from now a Record of Decision will be issued by the Park Service's Intermountain Regional Office in Denver. However, that never quite happened last summer after the park first reached its decision. After setting for months in the Washington office of Deputy Park Service Director Dan Wenks, the DEIS was shipped back to Denver earlier this year for some tweaking.