MISSOULA – The United States Attorney’s Office announced today that BNSF Railway Company has agreed to settle a lawsuit brought on behalf of the United States Forest Service regarding road use and damage on the Kootenai National Forest.
The lawsuit alleges that BNSF Railway damaged Forest Service roads on the Kootenai National Forest and failed to pay its fair share of costs for its commercial use of Forest Service roads. First, the lawsuit claims that in 2011, a train derailed from the BNSF line and spilled grain in an area along the BNSF line adjacent to a Forest Service road. The United States alleges that the grain removal and clean up from the spill damaged Forest Service roads, and BNSF has refused to pay for the damage to the road. The United States also claims that, since 2014, BNSF Railway has refused to pay the costs for road maintenance and permit fees associated with the use of overweight vehicles during seasonal road closures on the Kootenai National Forest. Last, the United States alleges BNSF Railway has trespassed on numerous Forest Service roads without obtaining the appropriate permits or authority.
Under the settlement, BNSF Railway will pay the United States $200,000. It will also spend up to $750,000 through 2019 to repair and maintain Forest Services roads located on the Kootenai National Forest that were damaged by its past use. In addition, BNSF Railway and the Kootenai National Forest have entered a Commercial Road Use Permit and a Forest Road Operation and Maintenance Agreement. These agreements will govern BNSF Railway’s use of Forest Service roads on the Kootenai National Forest in the future and require BNSF Railway to make annual contributions to Forest Service road maintenance.
“This settlement demonstrates our commitment to ensuring that commercial road users such as BNSF Railway, which utilize public land and roads for their businesses, pay their fair share for the wear and tear they cause to our public resources,” said U.S. Attorney Kurt Alme of the District of Montana. “Our office, in conjunction with the Forest Service, will continue to protect our public resources and ensure that taxpayers are not required to pay for damage caused by a business operating across federal land.
“I am pleased that we have come to a resolution on this issue and look forward to working with BNSF into the future on the Kootenai National Forest,” added Chris Savage, Forest Supervisor for the Kootenai National Forest.
The case, United States of America v. BNSF Railway Company, Cause No. CV-17-20-M-DLC-JCL (D. Mont.) was filed in February 2017 by Assistant U.S. Attorney Megan Dishong and stayed during the parties’ settlement negotiations. Following the settlement between the United States and BNSF Railway, the federal district court has dismissed the case.