City passes coal train opposition resolution

The City of Hood River is now officially in opposition to coal transport trains running through the city.

At its Monday meeting the council passed a resolution calling for the cessation of transport of coal through the Gorge by rail or barge.

“The City of Hood River opposes coal export projects that entail transportation through the Columbia River Gorge either by rail or by barge,” reads a portion of the petition.

In addition to expressing the city’s opposition to coal export through the Gorge, the resolution also states that the city “intends to address any impacts to surface and/or groundwater caused by the transport of coal through The City of Hood River by actively enforcing applicable environment statutes delegated to the City of Hood River.”

The unanimous decision to pass the resolution in opposition to the coal trains followed a presentation at the April 9 city council meeting. At that meeting, the council expressed support for such a resolution, but did not take any action beyond directing city staff to draft a resolution.

City staff consulted with Friends of the Columbia Gorge and presented it back to City Council Monday night.

“We don’t want to make broad political statements,” said Hood River Mayor Arthur Babitz, “but think about the effect of a derailment of a mile-and-a-half-long coal train ... We would be providing emergency services and it’s clear this would be a bad thing for the citizens.”

The council recognized that it does not have the authority to prohibit coal from being transported through the Gorge, and made several requests to the governments of Oregon and Washington if transport is ultimately approved.

Those requests included having railroad and barge companies provide representatives to meet with local citizen groups to address concerns, asking the states to require the railroad and barge companies to mitigate public safety hazards and asking that the railroad and barge companies perform environmental impact studies.

“We want to make a reasonable attempt to address the negative externalities of coal trains coming through,” said council member Jeff Nicol.

Also at Monday’s meeting:

n During public testimony, the council heard from Brent Foster and others opposed to the proposed cable park.

They requested the recusal of planning commission member Jennifer Gulizia, a waiver of the city’s appeal fee for nonprofit groups and that the city council review the planning commission’s decision, just as it did during the Walmart expansion case earlier this year.

Foster said they were requesting the council force Gulizia to recuse herself because she had refused to do so after stating the cable park project was her idea.

City Attorney Dan Kearns said Gulizia had stated she planted the seed for the original idea, but by the time she was on the planning commission she no longer had anything to do with it.

“She said she could (make an impartial decision) and there was no testimony to the contrary,” Kearns said.

Kearns added that there was no way for the council to remove a commissioner from an individual case, without removing them as a planning commissioner.

“We don’t have a policy in place for dealing with something with this and we have trouble getting good people onto commissions,” Babitz said. “We can wait until May 14 (the next council meeting) to get a staff report, and if there is any harm done in Jennifer’s role in this, we can’t choose to review it or appeal it ourselves.”

The council also said it would review its appeal fee and would wait until received a staff report to take further action.

n The council received an update from Babitz on how the battle between the USDA and the city over a water line grant project is proceeding.

“I know that it’s getting across because when Merkley’s office called the Northwest director of the USDA she wanted to know why the mayor of Hood River was saying bad things about them,” Babitz said. “We want the USDA to be successful and this project to be successful; we’re not tea partiers we don’t want the government to stop doing things we just want this project to be successful ... We’re not going to say it’s successful when it’s not.”

n During the mayor’s call Babitz praised residents who were involved in several Earth Day work parties over the weekend.

“Its good to see Hood River folks willing and eager to get out and do the things necessary to recreate at later dates,” he said.

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