By a unanimous vote of the 11 members present, the Aberdeen City Council Wednesday night passed a strongly worded resolution opposing plans to transport crude oil through Grays Harbor.
The roll call vote came after more than an hour of passionate public and council testimony against the oil project. Council member Jeff Cook was absent from the meeting.
The resolution, proposed by council member Alan Richrod, has no force of law and Aberdeen does not have a direct role in granting or denying permit applications for crude oil transportation or storage facilities on Grays Harbor. It does send a message to the Port of Grays Harbor and the City of Hoquiam as well as state and federal authorities: the city opposes the plan to bring long oil trains into the community, store the oil at three Hoquiam tank farms and ship it out on tankers and barges.
It also urges the state Department of Transportation and Freight Mobility Strategic Investment Board to conduct further studies and asks Gov. Jay Inslee to work with tribes to protect treaty and fishing rights.
There have been several explosive accidents in Canada and the U.S. as a result of oil train derailments, and the federal government is questioning the safety of the tanker cars used to ship oil. The resolution questions the safety of the rail lines running through the county, where there have been several derailments of grain cars in recent months.
All three oil storage projects would be on Port of Grays Harbor property. In an odd bit of timing, the vote on the resolution followed a slide-show presentation by the Port about its general operations and positive economic impacts. The presentation was scheduled back in July, Port spokesperson Kayla Dunlap said.
The oil terminal projects and shipping are planned by three companies — Westway Terminals, Imperium Renewables and U.S. Development.
Port Executive Director Gary Nelson, Port Commissioner Jack Thompson and Dunlap did not stay for public comment or the vote, though Nelson did answer questions from council and the audience about port business after the presentation. Most of them did not concern the resolution.
“It’s a free country, let them say their piece,” said Nelson on his way out. The vote is up to the council, said Thompson.
The third floor council meeting room was filled to the gills, mainly with supporters of the resolution. Some in the crowd were there to celebrate the retirement of Myra Rockwell, a 38-year veteran of the Police Department.
After a moving tribute to Rockwell by Police Chief Bob Torgerson, testimony by the public began in earnest. No one testified against the resolution.
Those testifying represented a cross section of Harbor residents. Fifteen people, young and older, men and women from Elma, rural Grays Harbor County, Ocean Shores, Hoquiam, Aberdeen and the Quinault Indian Nation spoke in favor.
With Mayor Bill Simpson keeping time with a chime sound on his smart phone, few speakers strayed far from the three minute limit.
Liz Ellis of Aberdeen worried about what oil spills would do to the Harbor. She also advocated for Aberdeen to be part of the solution for ecologically sustainable businesses.
Felix Capoeman of the Quinault Indian Nation said he wanted to keep digging for razor clams without digging through a “bunch of oil slicks.”
Robin Moore of Hoquiam brought comic relief by taking a verbal poke at Hoquiam Mayor Jack Durney, who recently criticized as interference a similar resolution from Port of Olympia officials. Calling Durney, “prickly,” she joked: “I don’t see him here so I guess he is for it.”
Larry Thevik of Ocean Shores, as vice president of the Dungeness Crab Fishing Association, warned against the risk to the substantial earnings an estimated 7,000 marine and fishing jobs bring to the Harbor. He also warned an accident could bring death not only to an industry but to marine and human life.
Jackie Farra, a member of the Ocean Shores City Council, worried that any spill would mean saying “goodbye to Ocean Shores proper.”
Diane Wolfe, also of Hoquiam, spoke of neighbors being concerned for neighbors. “We are all in this together,” she said.
Several speeches were greeted with applause as were the statements by the council members, particularly council member Kathi Hoder, who adamantly opposes crude-by-rail. “I’m against this oil thing … no way. NO WAY,” she said.
Though council member Tim Alstrom had some issues with some of the wording of the resolution, concerns about public safety and the proposed length of the trains led him to a yes vote. He also doubted the railway would make enough of an investment to fix the rails.
“I wish it was easy and simple but it’s not,” he said.
Councilman Doug Paling echoed Thevik’s earlier worry about how fast the crude could spread in the strong currents in the Harbor of up to 3.5 knots that roil the waters for as much as 112 days per year.
Council President Peter Schave wants to hear about what is being proposed to solve the problems, including the “lousy” location of a storage yard, that is too close to the city. The potential risk is too devastating without more answers, he said.
Public Safety Committee Chairman Denny Lawrence also reminded the council of previous concerns expressed in his committee, which have included the lack of specialized foam fire fighting trucks and equipment.
Jerry Mills and Jim Cook also spoke in favor of the resolution.
Richrod said he begged to differ with a statement by the Port’s Nelson that the railroad had assured him oil has not usurped the place of other cargoes. Richrod asserted both shippers of perishable freight and even coal suppliers “are griping” that oil has supplanted them in national train traffic.
He thanked the audience for supported the resolution. Clearly pleased with his freshman effort, he softly repeated a political battlecry:
“ ‘This is what democracy looks like.’ ”