Nearly everyone who spoke at a Thursday night session to get input on a study of proposed crude oil shipping facilities in Hoquiam thought the whole proposal was a bad idea.
Increased rail traffic, oil spills, air pollution and safety were areas of concern as the City of Hoquiam and the state Department of Ecology consider the impacts of two crude oil shipping facilities proposed for Grays Harbor.
About 70 concerned citizens crowded into the Hoquiam High School cafeteria to share suggestions of what should be studied during as the city and Ecology create and Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the projects proposed by Imperium Renewables and Westway Terminal Company.
A third company, U.S. Development, has also proposed a local crude-by-rail facility, which won’t be studied as part of this EIS.
Citizens from Grays Harbor and beyond have been vocal regarding their feelings for the projects, but the purpose of the recent meeting wasn’t to voice opinions regarding crude-by-rail, said Jerry Thielan, a consultant hired to facilitate the meeting. “It’s not so much about whether you like or dislike this project,” Thielan said. “This meeting is for people to make suggestions of things to look at.”
But nearly all of the 44 people who took the microphone to make suggestions took the opportunity to voice their general disapproval for the projects.
“Build it and they will come. But we say don’t build it, deny the permit,” said Zoltan Grossman of Olympia.
Many of the commentors expressed safety concerns, and many noted oil train explosions from the past year. Hoquiam resident Brian Sterling asked who would have the responsibility of fighting oil fires when they happen.
“I do not believe that our communities have the resources to fight large-scale oil fires,” Sterling said.
Another common worry: the state of the railroad tracks running between Centralia and Hoquiam. Many of the commentors speculated that the tracks aren’t adequate to withstand increased rail traffic. Wes Brosman said the tracks are in such a state of disrepair that they could easily be dismantled by vandals.
“This track could be sabotaged by a set of tools and a clever 12-year-old,” Brosman said.
The projects have also spawned concern about shorebirds, which use Grays Harbor as a resting place during their yearly migration. Janet Strong of McCleary explained that the area needs to remain healthy in order for the bird migrations to continue. The third project, which is just getting started through the permit process and isn’t a part of the environmental impact statement that was the focus of Thursday’s meeting, would be very near the Grays Harbor National Wildlife Refuge at Bowerman Basin.
“It’s an important link in the Pacific flyway where millions of birds fly though each year,” Strong said.
Others worried that the oil storage facilities would make Grays Harbor a target for terrorism.
All parties agreed that the impact of the oil shipping projects on all communities — from Centralia to the beaches — needs to be carefully studied.
“It’s not just Hoquiam, it’s not just Aberdeen, it’s all the communities up and down the line,” said Ron Figlar-Barnes, who ran for a Port Commission seat on a platform opposing the oil projects.
The agencies are in early stages of performing the analysis, and the process could take as short as a few months or as long as a few years.
“It’s hard to say how long it will take while we’re still making a list of what we’ll study,” said Diane Butorac, Southwest regional planner for Ecology.
Another scoping meeting will take place April 29 at Centralia High School, located at 813 Eshom Road, from 5 to 9 p.m.