A chorus of opponents Wednesday night urged the Aberdeen City Council to oppose proposed crude oil rail shipments into Grays Harbor, adding their voices to the protests following two grain train derailments in as many weeks in the city.
Close to 30 people, many sporting oil protest T-shirts for cleanharbor.org, turned out to lobby the council. They fear an environmental and human disaster they say could ruin the marine economy on Grays Harbor and even lead to loss of life.
Plans to bring oil in rail tanker cars and ship it by barges and tankers from Port of Grays Harbor facilities are proposed by Imperium Renewables, Westway Terminal Co. and U.S. Development. The storage facilities would all be in Hoquiam, but the oil trains would travel through Aberdeen.
Speaking for close to an hour, several speakers used the specter of recent oil train derailments, fires and fatalities in other cities across the country and in Canada. The so-called practice of trains to “slow-go” at 5 mph through Aberdeen is not enough to prevent accidents, some asserted.
The opponents moved several officials to weigh in.
The protest moved Mayor Bill Simpson to agree to draft a letter similar to one being considered by Montesano Mayor Ken Estes about that city’s concerns regarding crude-by-rail. Not enough, said Mike Dickerson of the Our Aberdeen civic group. “Don’t go wishy-washy on this,” he said to Simpson, who has not yet made up his mind about the issue on the whole.
Council President Peter Schave said he normally approves of business projects, but he is against the crude-by-rail plan unless the railroad can better guarantee city and county safety. He wants the railroad to move their storage yard from the end of Broadway area to the Port of Grays Harbor. He worries that the tank cars are pressurized “like a can of 7-Up” and could vent extremely flammable gasses.
Schave wants to be assured about what kind of chemical firefighting capabilities there are on the Harbor to deal with possible conflagrations. One 500-gallon foam truck in Hoquiam isn’t enough, Schave said.
Public Safety Committee Chairman Denny Lawrence promised the committee would consider issues concerning safe transport and storage of hazardous materials.
Council member Kathi Hoder noted she was speaking as a citizen and not for her ward. She noted she came to revise her wholehearted support of the pontoon operation and regretted that more jobs and cash didn’t appear. She fears the crude-by-rail operations will not bring enough jobs and revenue to offset the risks. “I don’t feel good about it,” she said.
Councilmember Alice Phelps also weighed in against the delivery of crude. “We need to do what we can,” she said.
Linda Orgel, an outspoken critic of the oil development, referred to the federal Department of Transportation emergency order issued May 7 to petroleum oil carriers about the imminent hazard of the rail shipment of a million gallons or more of crude oil from the Bakken fields of the Midwest. The order mandates rail carriers notify emergency response commissions in states and cities when shipments are sent there.
Dickerson also urged that the rail yard be moved. He said any cars containing hazardous materials such as ethanol or hazardous materials that are stored for more than four hours should be reported to local authorities, so fire departments are aware of them. “You have a right to protect our city … the railroad is not in good shape.”
Ron Figlar-Barnes of Elma, who lost his race for port commissioner while running on an anti-oil platform, handed out a packet telling council members why there are several reasons to reject it.
Robin Moore of Hoquiam told them to take a stand as elected officials. Jim Campbell worried about the possible environmental disasters if crude spills into the Harbor, noting oyster operations are already leaving due to the acidification of the water.
There is “all to lose and nothing to gain,” said Jarred Figlar-Barnes, the son of Ron Figlar-Barnes and an activist against oil.
No one spoke in favor of crude-by-rail at the meeting.
The public has until May 27 to submit comments to the state Department of Ecology on Environmental Impact Statements concerning current crude-by-rail proposals for Westway and Imperium.