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Contact: Dave Dahlen, 406-888-7930
Contact: Melissa Wilson, 406-888-7895
WEST GLACIER, MONT. – Glacier National Park officials announced Friday afternoon that Burlington Northern-Santa Fe Railroad (BNSF) has been granted a temporary emergency special use permit for avalanche hazard mitigation within the boundaries of the park. The request from BNSF was received Friday morning after more than a foot of new snow accumulated Thursday night and Friday morning above 4,000 feet.
Based on the new snow accumulation and weekend weather forecast calling for rain and temperatures above 40 degrees, a 24 hour notification was received at the park around 1 p.m. Friday. Provided all criteria and requirements are met, blasting could occur at the earliest at 1 p.m. Saturday afternoon.
As a precautionary measure, short-term closures of U.S. Highway 2 are expected to occur between Essex and the community of Snowslip (mile marker 178 to 191) and will be coordinated by Montana Department of Transportation. Off-road park area closures will be in effect at 8 a.m. Saturday morning for Snowslip and Running Rabbit Mountains (mile markers184-191).
The temporary special use permit is valid for three days from February 24 to February 27, 2006, for temporary blasting to reduce avalanche dangers along the Middle Fork railroad right-of-way along the southern boundary of Glacier National Park. The permit requires BNSF to notify the NPS of the emergency 24 hours prior to any blasting operation and to provide an operations plan to the park eight hours prior to any blasting operation. After this weekend, issuance of any future emergency special use permit is pending an operations agreement between BNSF and Montana Department of Transportation (MDOT).
The emergency permit was authorized after consultation with all cooperating agencies, including Flathead National Forest, Montana Department of Transportation and Burlington Northern-Santa Fe Railroad.
The BNSF request stems from incidents that occurred in January 2004. On January 28, 2004, an empty 119 car freight train was stopped on the west side of Marias Pass in John Stevens Canyon by an avalanche that had crossed the tracks in this area. While it was stopped, the train was hit by another avalanche that derailed 15 cars in two different places. A third avalanche nearly missed clean up crews and a fourth slide hit a truck traveling on U.S. Highway 2. East and west bound passenger service on Amtrak was also temporarily stopped and 70 miles of freight trains were backed up on both sides of Marias Pass for 29 hours.
Following these incidents, Glacier National Park was advised that BNSF wanted to set up an avalanche hazard reduction program. The park determined that an environmental impact statement (EIS) would be required. The EIS project area extends between Mile Post 182-193 along U.S. Highway 2 through the John Stevens Canyon. The EIS will analyze potential impacts on park resources and values and evaluate various alternatives approach to mitigate avalanche hazards in the project area on Glacier National Park and Flathead National Forest (FNF) lands. The railroad lies outside the southern boundary of Glacier National Park on lands owned by FNF; however, the BNSF has a right-of-way on FNF lands.
The draft EIS is currently undergoing internal review and is expected to be available for public review this spring.