Port should comment on Quebec explosion, Hoquiam mayor says

After a train carrying crude oil exploded in Quebec, many Harborites are questioning the safety of a project that would bring three crude oil shipping facilities to Hoquiam. So far, the Port of Grays Harbor has kept mum, and Hoquiam Mayor Jack Durney said its time port officials weighed in on the situation.

“It’s disappointing to me that they’ve remained mute during all the conversations and all the headlines and all the articles and all the public meetings,” Durney said. His comments came at Monday night’s City Council meeting.

Contacted after last night’s meeting, Port Commission Chairman Chuck Caldwell disagreed.

“Why would I want to make a statement about it?” Caldwell said. “It’s a natural disaster. There was a plane that went down, too. Was I supposed to comment on that, too?”

“We have people that make rulings on these things that are professionals,” he added. “So why would a novice off the street make a comment when you have professional people who look at the rails? That’s just the way the world works.”

The three shipping facilities would be located in Hoquiam. Existing Imperium Renewables and Westway Terminal Company facilities would be expanded to accommodate crude oil. A third, proposed by U.S. Development, would be built from scratch near Bowerman Field.

The City of Hoquiam is responsible for issuing many of the permits to get the facilities up and running, and Port of Grays Harbor officials have played a large role in supporting the projects. As a result, the two agencies are bearing the brunt of the public’s crude by rail criticism.

For example, a flier for a July 12 meeting protesting crude-by-rail reads, “Come find out what the City of Hoquiam and the Port of Grays Harbor do not want you to know!!!”

Durney said he finds these comments “disturbing,” as he and other city officials are primarily concerned with the public’s safety. He said the city isn’t interested in promoting the project, but in making sure it’s executed safely.

“I’m trying to think of what it is, and why there would be anything we would prevent the public from knowing,” Durney said.

“Some people have been thinking we’ve been promoting the idea, and so on,” he added. “But the reality is that it’s something the Port put together, as they do with economic developments.”

But Durney did ask crude-by-rail critics to look at the job creation aspect before judging too harshly. Port Executive Director Gary Nelson said at a May meeting that the three crude oil shipping facilities could create about 100 jobs.

“People need to recognize that it’s jobs, and it’s employment that keeps things going,” Durney said.

Long-time Councilman Byron Hyde agreed. “I’m all for the oil, I’ll come right out and say it,” Hyde said.