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West-side Native Tribe Sues BNSF Over Oil Trains

oil train
Paige Browning
Spokane Public Radio

A Native American tribe has filed suit to stop oil trains from crossing their reservation. The Swinomish tribe of Western Washington has filed a suit in federal court against BNSF railway.

Director of the office of Tribal attorney Steven LeCuyer says the tribe had an agreement dating from 1991 from a previous suit that granted the railway an easement with conditions that included updates on the type of cargo crossing the reservation, and a limit of trains to just 25 railcars.

LeCuyer says they found out through media reports that up to six trains a week as long as 100 cars long carrying crude oil have been crossing the reservation.

LeCuyer: "And the tribe's position is: a deal is a deal. Burlington Northern should be honoring the terms of that deal, particularly when it was a deal to honor a trespass lawsuit. Number two is the tribe has become increasingly concerned, as have people across the country with the dangers posed by the transportation of Bakken crude oil by rail.”

Bakken crude oil has been involved in several major explosions and fire in connection with derailments in the last year. The tribal spokesman says there is concern over a contamination of the marine ecosystem on Fidalgo Island in Puget sound where the reservation lies, and the threat of a catastrophic fire to the tribes economic development center.

The suit filed in federal court seeks to limit the trains to 25 cars, as per the original easement, and to halt shipment of Bakken crude in any of the rail cars.

A spokesman from BNSF says there are reviewing the suit and offered no comment.

Steve was part of the Spokane Public Radio family for many years before he came on air in 1999. His wife, Laurie, produced Radio Ethiopia in the late 1980s through the '90s, and Steve used to “lurk in the shadowy world” of Weekend SPR. Steve has done various on air shifts at the station, including nearly 15 years as the local Morning Edition host. Currently, he is the voice of local weather and news during All Things Considerd, writing, editing, producing and/or delivering newscasts and features for both KPBX and KSFC. Aside from SPR, Steve ,who lives in the country, enjoys gardening, chickens, playing and listening to music, astronomy, photography, sports cars and camping.
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