Controversy over oil trains in the Gorge has ramped up as three Hood River City Councilors and numerous local environmental groups speak out against a proposed Tesoro-Savage terminal in Vancouver.
Hundreds crammed into the first hearing on the oil shipping facility, held at Clark County Event Center in Ridgefield, Wash. — nearly 400 signed up to testify, and groups estimate the full turnout bordered on 1,000.
"Effectively addressing the aftermath of a fire, explosion or spill would be impossible.”
The majority of speakers urged Washington’s Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council (EFSEC) to reject the proposed facility.
The oil hub — planned by Vancouver Energy, a partnership between Tesoro oil company and Savage consulting firm — would rest on the banks of the Columbia River at the Port of Vancouver and handle 360,000 gallons of crude oil per day. The barrels would be stored onsite and loaded onto ships for delivery to refineries.
If operational, the terminal would boost the number of trains circulating through the Columbia River Gorge by an average of four per day according to EFSEC’s draft environmental impact statement.
Called a “pipeline on wheels” by opponents, it would be the largest proposed oil-by-rail facility in the United States. Critics cite risks of fiery derailments in the case of an oil spill, mile-long trains blocking emergency vehicles at the tracks, and a harmful impact on the Columbia River ecosystem.
Supporters of the deal argue Vancouver Energy would support the United States’ independence in the oil trade, bolster local economies, and would follow Washington State’s safety regulations.
However, since EFSEC released an impact report on Vancouver Energy in November, local conservation groups and elected officials have redoubled their efforts in fighting the terminal.
Three Hood River City Councilors signed up to speak at the Jan. 5 hearing, but only two were meted out time. Kate McBride and Laurent Picard testified, but Peter Cornelison had to wait until Tuesday’s follow-up hearing.
The councilors told the Hood River News they oppose the terminal due to safety and environmental risks. Their statements came as a follow-up to City Council’s 2014 resolution against coal and oil shipments through their terrain.
“I really echoed our city council resolution, which is about safety,” McBride said in an interview. “It felt like kind of a bigger movement … it was such a diverse group that were opposing it for different reasons,” she said.
Local conservation groups including Friends of the Columbia Gorge and Columbia Riverkeeper testified at the hearing, as did citizens ranging in age from adolescence to post-retirement. Tribal leaders from the Yakama Nation and Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs weighed in as well.
Picard’s opposition drew, in part, from his experience as a Portland firefighter.
“Even a city fire department the size of Seattle’s or San Francisco’s would be overtaxed should a train carrying Bakken crude derail and explode,” Picard said via email. “In the Gorge, we don’t even have the resources to perform a proper, coordinated (evacuation). Effectively addressing the aftermath of a fire, explosion or spill would be impossible.”
Cornelison took a similarly firm stance against the terminal, and lambasted increased oil and coal shipments in general. “I think city council is pretty aligned on wanting to create ways to address a clean and positive energy future,” he said.
The City of Hood River’s resolution against crude-by-rail traffic was one of many issued by government bodies throughout the Gorge. Hood River County called for increased state and federal regulations on oil shipments, and several nearby cities, including The Dalles and Bingen, issued similar statements.
WHERE DO YOU STAND?
The draft environmental review for Vancouver Energy’s proposed oil terminal is open for comments until Jan. 22.
To leave a comment, go to www.efsec.wa.gov/..., where you can submit a pre-written or customized comment to Washington Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council.
The final hearing on the impact review will be held Thursday, Jan. 14 at Centerplace Regional Event Center in Spokane. The night is scheduled from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m., or last speaker.
Though the majority of public testimony has rejected Vancouver Energy, a handful of letters filed in EFSEC’s public comment record were in favor.
“As a Tesoro employee and an American job holder, my family depends on the strength of the oil and gas industry in the U.S.,” wrote Ruben Rivera and Paul McWaid, who self-identified in form letters as Tesoro employees. Several similar letters came from citizens in Oregon, Washington and other states in the West.
Vancouver Energy released a statement on its website, arguing the impacts caused by the facility would be “either minor or negligible, or can be mitigated.”
Environmental groups argue the EFSEC report, while already alarming, downplayed the impact of boosted train traffic through the region.
Cornelison said there was a conflict of interest in the consulting team who put together the report. Three out of four authors of the team hired by EFSEC — MainLine Management — were former employees of BNSF Railway Co., according to an investigative report by The Oregonian/Oregon Live.
EFSEC’s second hearing on Vancouver Energy was held Tuesday at Ridgefield. The third hearing will be in Spokane on Thursday.
Picard feels confident the terminal will be struck down due to pushback, even if it has to be taken up at a higher level.
“Even if the EFSEC disregards the vast majority of the public input, which has been in opposition to this terminal, I believe that Gov. (Jay) Inslee, who has the final say, will deny it,” Picard said.