More than 100 people came to the Elma Grange last night hoping to learn more about crude oil shipping proposals on Grays Harbor. Opponents were there in force, but the pro side was conspicuously absent.
Shannon Vandenbush of the League of Women Voters of Grays Harbor, organizers of the event, said none of the representatives of Westway Terminals, Imperium Renewables or U.S. Development agreed to attend.
After no response via emails to representatives involved in a previous forum in Ocean Shores, Vandenbush started making calls.
“I contacted a few of the local principals by phone and each declined to attend for different reasons,” she said. “It left me with the feeling that the public was being brushed off, particularly by elected officials,” though she declined to name anyone specifically.
“We did have good representation from city councils, mayors,” Vandenbush said. “Everyone out here who’s affected by this made an appearance. That says something.”
The frustration boiled over at times, with speakers venting general concerns about traffic, spills and explosions as a result of the proposals to ship and store crude oil at the Port of Grays Harbor.
Imperium and Westway are in the scoping process of their environmental impact statement, where Hoquiam and the state Department of Ecology seek input from the public on what the companies should have to account for in the study. The EIS itself is not a permit, though it will be used in making permitting decisions later.
U.S. Development, which formed the local company Grays Harbor Rail Terminal, has a lease option at the Port and recently began its permitting process.
Hoquiam City Administrator Brian Shay said the EIS will account for the combined impacts of the three projects, but the U.S. Development proposal is just starting its permitting process, and will have to go through the same steps as the other two companies. It has not yet been decided if U.S. Development will have to do an EIS itself.
Shay and several representatives from Ecology were available to answer questions. In his comments, Hoquiam City Councilman Richard Pennant thanked them for coming.
“Unlike the soulless businessmen and the dunderheads at the Port, they showed up tonight,” he said.
Pennant had sharp criticism for the Port. Moderator and Vidette editor Steven Friederich quickly read an email from Executive Director Gary Nelson saying Port staff was focused on tonight’s scoping meeting in Hoquiam, and didn’t find the forums an effective way to communicate. “I think they’re just assuming this is a done deal,” Pennant said. “They’ve got the money behind them.”
Former county commissioner Dan Wood also had strong words against the proposals.
“This proposal is absolutely crazy. I spent Christmas day 1988 and several days before and after helping with the cleanup on the beaches” after the Nestucca Barge oil spill in Grays Harbor, Wood said.
“I got my Nissan Sentra stuck on the beach, with a dead seal in the trunk and a car full of live birds,” he added, trying to clear the beach. “That was a small spill, and that was oil that did not explode.”
“In case there’s any question about it, the Quinaults are adamantly opposed to any oil trains,” spokesman Steve Robinson said.
The Quinault Indian Nation has been a leading opponent of the projects, filing court challenges and appeals of permits issued throughout the process.
“The tribe is interested in working with anyone and everyone who is interested in keeping big oil the hell out of here,” Robinson said, to cheers from the crowd. He asked those interested in joining in a coalition with the tribe to email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ecology Spill Preparedness Section Manager Linda Pilkey-Jarvis answered questions and brought some positive news.
“Out of this last legislative session, the Department of Ecology spill program has been directed to write a report, a study, that’s going to look at these large issues that you’ve been bringing up,” she said. “We’re doing a study that will look at rail safety and oil spill gaps and issues in moving crude by rail. This is a really big issue.”
When the geographic response plan for Grays Harbor was updated in January, Ecology made its first effort to plan for an upland spill, but Pilkey-Jarvis said at that time the department lacked information to plan effectively.
She said the department expects to have a website up Friday where people can follow their progress and provide comments. It will be available through the spill program site at www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/spills/spills.html.
The lone speaker in favor of the projects was Ray Brown of Westport.
“Fracking has been going on 65 years, there’s nothing new about fracking,” Brown said. “It really comes down to this: You guys don’t want no crude, you don’t get no crude. That means everybody’s walking home tonight. No walking on the pavement because that’s asphalt. When you go to the grocery store, don’t even think about buying anything, because it’s all made with oil.”