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June 25, 2022

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Appeals court supports tribal lawsuit over oil trains

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ANACORTES — A federal appeals court has upheld a ruling protecting the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community’s right to sue to enforce an agreement that restricts the number of trains that can cross its reservation in northwest Washington state.

The tribe sued BNSF Railway in 2015, alleging the company was violating an agreement signed in 1991 that only allowed two 25-car trains to cross its reservation on Fidalgo Island each day, the Skagit-Valley Herald reported Thursday.

Multiple 100-car trains carrying crude oil from the Bakken region cross the reservation in Skagit County each week, the lawsuit said. The tracks serve to oil refineries in Anacortes.

A U.S. District Court denied BNSF Railway’s request to have the case dismissed. The railway argued the matter should be decided in federal court.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the ruling Wednesday, and the case will now return to federal district court.

“We are thankful that the Court of Appeals has upheld the Tribe’s right to seek equitable enforcement of the terms of its easement agreement with BNSF,” outgoing Swinomish Chairman Brian Cladoosby said. “The Tribe takes its agreements very seriously, and we expect them to be honored.”

A BNSF spokesperson declined to comment.

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