Judges rule in favor of BNSF track expansion in Columbia River Gorge

Written by Bill Wilson, Editor-in-Chief
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A woman has been convicted of attempting to use a shunt on BNSF tracks in Washington state.
BNSF Railway

The Gorge Act passed back in 1986 established the Columbia River Gorge as a National Scenic Area.

The scene that played out in a courtroom on Aug. 24 gave BNSF the power to expand anyway.

BNSF had originally sued because it wanted to carry out a track expansion project and Clark County, Wash., officials said a permit was required. The Class 1 said federal law trumps local zoning ordinances.

A federal judge sided with BNSF, prompting a group led by the Columbia River Gorge Commission and Friends of the Columbia River Gorge to appeal. The plaintiffs believed the Gorge Act protected the area from any kind of construction.

The Ninth Circuit disagreed on Aug. 24, stating that the Gorge Act was not a nationwide environmental statute like the Clean Air Act or the Clean Water Act. The Gorge Act simply does not require local laws and rules to be approved by the Environmental Protection Agency.

“The Gorge Act plainly does not authorize the EPA to create any national environmental standards for … land management,” U.S. Circuit Judge Jay Bybee said in the ruling. “It simply provides a framework for Oregon and Washington to cooperatively manage a shared area of land.”

Back when the Gorge Act passed then-Sen. Slade Gorton of Washington state said railroad operations and maintenance in the area should continue in accordance with the applicable standards in the act. In dismissing the argument, Bybee said there was a lack of language connected to railroads in the Gorge Act, which meant the law was never intended to pre-empt federal authority over railroads.

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Categories: Class 1, Freight, Rail News, Railroad News, Track Construction
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