More than 150 people came to the Centralia High School auditorium Tuesday night to voice their concerns against two new oil transfer centers slated to be built on Grays Harbor.
The meeting was meant to be a platform for public comments and concerns related to the two projects, but the message from attendees was clear and unified — study as many impacts as possible, but don’t let the trains come through Western Washington.
Nearly every speaker expressed concerns about the increase in global warming, potential derailments, the unpreparedness of municipalities in the face of explosions and the potentially disastrous results for rail neighborhoods.
“There were two cars that went off the tracks (in Aberdeen) today. That could have been oil, that could have been explosive material,” said Grays Harbor County Commissioner Frank Gordon during the meeting. “I’m going to ask for blasting walls to protect people in busy areas.”
Many fear that Westway Terminal Company and Imperium Renewables will be able to shield themselves from environmental disasters and thus leave taxpayers holding the tab for cleanup and emergency services. Several opponents requested the state and the City of Hoquiam require a $50 million bond before either terminal is allowed to proceed.
Attendees also stressed their fears of what they say is the highly explosive Bakken crude, and cited the derailment and explosion in Quebec that killed 47 people last summer.
The 120-car trains would pass through Centralia on their way to two newly proposed Grays Harbor oil terminals. If each terminal is built, Grays Harbor could store nearly three million barrels of oil.
The Centralia meeting was the second of two public hearings for people to address the City of Hoquiam and the Washington Department of Ecology with any concerns they may have over the proposed terminals.
The meetings happened in large part because the Quinault Tribe sued the Department of Ecology, the City of Hoquiam and Westway Terminal Company because what the tribe felt were inadequate environmental studies.
“The standards were extremely low,” Tyson Johnston, first councilman of the Quinault Tribe, said after the meeting. “What we’ve heard from our sister tribes dealing with crude-by-rail and the devastation that’s been happening, we felt that we needed to call on the city of Hoquiam and the (Department of Ecology) to look at the economic and environmental impacts as well as the impacts to treaty rights.”
Centralia city councilors Bonnie Canaday, Patrick Gallagher and John Elmore were in the audience, listening to the statements from their constituents. No representatives from Westway or Imperium were in attendance.
Trying to stem any potential disruptions or outbursts in advance, the meeting facilitators posted a list of ground rules for the meeting that included, no clapping or jeers, only small signs and instructions not to block anyone. During the three-hour comment period, not one person spoke in favor of the projects. Those who commented frequently went over the allotted two minutes but the moderator corrected only a few.
The public can submit comments on the trains or facilities to the Department of Ecology via the department’s website or in writing until May 27.