State firefighters want Inslee to halt Bakken crude by rail till safety concerns addressed

Gov. Jay Inslee should to do everything in his power to halt the movement of Bakken crude by rail through the state until a state agency study is completed next year and measures are put into place to make sure the oil can be transported safely.

So says a resolution passed by the Washington State Council of Fire Fighters at its annual convention in Spokane in late June. It also asks Inslee to make sure local communities have enough resources to combat any oil explosions, spills and derailments and says association members “will work closely with communities it now serves to inform them of our concerns about crude by rail transportation and engage them in discussions about maintaining a healthy and safe community based on prevention and preparation.”

The lengthy resolution lays out concerns about the safety of the rail lines, the tanker cars, the flammability of the crude and the ability of local communities and firefighters to handle big crude accidents or explosions should they occur.

The resolution specifically mentions Grays Harbor as one of the areas of major concern, where oil trains could travel “possibly through Rochester along the Chehalis River west on the Genesee & Wyoming (railroad) lines to three proposed marine transfer terminals at the Port of Grays Harbor.”

“Our railroads do not transport any crude oil in Washington. Before we would do so, the necessary infrastructure upgrades and operating protocols would be put in place to ensure that it was transported safely,” said Michael E. Williams, director of corporate communications for Genesee & Wyoming Railroad.

Plans to bring crude oil in rail tanker cars to ship by barges and tankers from Port of Grays Harbor facilities are proposed by Imperium Renewables, Westway Terminals and U.S. Development. The storage facilities would all be in Hoquiam, but the oil trains of up to 150 cars would travel through Aberdeen. There were three derailments of grain cars in Grays Harbor this spring within a short time.

Genesee & Wyoming owns the carrier that will handle rail shipments to Grays Harbor if those projects are approved.

The council members endorsed Inslee and are strong supporters of him, said Geoff Simpson, their legislative lobbyist. They hope to meet with him soon about concerns expressed in the resolution.

Founded in 1939, the state council is the largest group of professional unionized firefighters in the state, with 8,000 members and 133 locals, including crews in Aberdeen and Hoquiam.

The resolution notes concerns about plans to expand rail capacity to receive the oil at four refineries and that “newly proposed marine transfer stations at the ports of Vancouver and Grays Harbor will greatly increase the number of oil trains traveling in our state.”

It also notes the city council of Vancouver voted to oppose the proposed oil terminal and movement of Bakken crude through its city. The final decision on that project will rest with Inslee.

The resolution quotes concerns stated by the National Transportation Safety Board. One, there is no mandate for railroads to develop comprehensive plans or to secure the availability of necessary response resources. And two, the carriers have effectively placed the burden of fixing or remediating the environmental consequences of an accident on local communities along the route.

The resolution then warns “this burden to protect is being placed on local jurisdictions — many who are struggling to maintain their firefighters and first responders, let alone provide them with adequate resources to respond to oil fires, explosions and derailments.”

The resolution also asks that after March 1, if Inslee and the appropriate state agencies determine that the crude by rail is safe to move through cities and rural areas, the council “be informed as to the existence of adequate public resources to prepare for and deal with oil fires, spills and derailments.”

The resolution also points out that the vast majority of the rail cars that could be loaded with the crude are DOT-111s “which have been known to puncture upon impact since 1991.” The DOT-111 cars make up some 78,000 of 92,000 cars in service, the resolution estimates.

Locals support resolution

The council is part of the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) and the presidents of both locals, Dave Swinhart of Local No. 2639 in Aberdeen and Doug Stankavich of Hoquiam Local No. 315, said they support the resolution. Neither was present for the vote. Both Hoquiam delegates voted in favor, Aberdeen’s had to leave to return to work.

“We’re fighting already to keep positions in place,” said Stankavich referring to the layoff of four firefighters that almost came to pass in Hoquiam due to budget constraints. He is worried whether there will be enough firefighters on duty to handle a major oil emergency with five to seven firefighters working on a daily basis, even given mutual aid provided by other cities.

Swinhart liked the fact the resolution asks that the topic be investigated and that safety be vetted for communities regarding potential hazards. He also worries about the aging of the rail infrastructure..

Both union leaders made a point to mention they did not want to speak against the possibility of more family wage jobs coming to the Harbor but worried more jobs may be lost in the event of a spill or explosion, particularly in the seafood industry.

The resolution was given a “do pass” recommendation by two committees, one on safety and health and the other legislative matters and was passed by two-thirds of a standing vote.

The IAFF is holding its national convention in Cincinnati, Ohio from July 14-18. “I have scanned the resolutions for the international convention and do not see any dealing with Bakken crude,” Simpson said.

The council will meet with the governor to discuss the resolution after the IAFF national convention.

Erin Hart, 360-537-3932, ehart@thedailyworld.com. Twitter: @DW_Erin


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