Elected officials demand oil-by-rail moratorium in Gorge

At Mosier gathering, Washington city leaders support Gorge mayors

STEVE LAWRENCE, The Dalles mayor, speaks out against oil trains at a conference of mayors in Mosier Friday, one week after a Union Pacific train derailed on the tracks nearby.

Photo by Patrick Mulvihill
STEVE LAWRENCE, The Dalles mayor, speaks out against oil trains at a conference of mayors in Mosier Friday, one week after a Union Pacific train derailed on the tracks nearby.

A week after an oil train derailment in Mosier, a pair of city leaders from Vancouver and Spokane joined local mayors to show their explicit stance against crude-by-rail traffic through the Northwest.

The five elected leaders from Mosier, The Dalles, Hood River, Vancouver and Spokane gathered for a public message at Totem Plaza in Mosier Friday morning, in which they demanded a moratorium on crude oil transports through the Gorge.

“We are convinced there are no safe ways to carry these volatile materials through our front yards, right by our schools,” Mosier Mayor Arlene Burns said. “What we are calling for is a moratorium on the traffic of this highly volatile, dangerous fossil fuel through the Columbia River corridor.”

Appleton, Lumley speak

Two Gorge leaders appeared Tuesday morning, before press time, at a forum at Portland City Hall with Portland Mayor Charlie Hales and others.

Jim Appleton, Mosier Fire Chief, and Paul Lumley, Executive Director, Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, joined a forum in which leaders were expected to call for further action to protect public health and prevent further disasters. In a press release, Regna Merritt, PA, of Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility said the forum would call on Gov. Kate Brown to oppose upcoming oil-by-rail projects.

like the Tesoro-Savage terminal proposed in Vancouver, Wash., and to work for a permanent ban on dangerous oil-by-rail.

The Stand Up to Oil Coalition has formally opposed oil-by-rail along with the City of Portland, Multnomah County, the cities of Mosier, Hood River, The Dalles and Cascade Locks — as of June 13, see page A1 article.

Forum speakers on Tuesday included Deborah Kafoury, Multnomah County Chair; Jared Smith, International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 4; Dr. Andy Harris; Dr. Patrick O’Herron; and Merritt as moderator.

Burns called upon President Barack Obama to catalyze federal transportation policy change, and on Oregon Gov. Kate Brown to deny use of state water or wetland resources for the railway’s oil train routes.

She commended Brown’s statement Monday, shared by several state officials, which echoed Mosier’s call for an oil train moratorium.

After Burns’ introduction, the city leaders from Washington weighed in.

“We’re worried in Spokane about this,” Spokane City Council President Ben Stuckart said. “If an accident like (what) happened here last week happened in Spokane, two-thirds of the population would be cut off from the major hospitals in the region.”

He said the U.S. Department of Transportation has the power to make an emergency ruling “right now and stop the transport of this product.

“Municipalities have to stand together and that’s why we’re here,” Stuckart said.

Vancouver City Council member Bart Hansen declared the council will meet Monday to consider an “all-out ban on crude oil facilities” in their city limits. Formerly, the council had undertaken individual moratoriums, not permanent action.

Hansen expects the matter will come to a vote this summer.

Hood River Mayor Paul Blackburn spoke in solidarity with Mosier, saying Hood River had missed a bullet that instead struck its neighbor.

“It’s a relief to be able to do something — there’s a lot of talk, but to able to stand with our neighbor — I’m really grateful,” Blackburn said.

He called upon federal policymakers to implement new protections in the Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area.

“Congress acted once to say that this is a National Scenic Area. Maybe they should act again to protect us from these trains,” Blackburn said. “I need to protect the citizens of my town, and their towns … please fix this.”

The Dalles Mayor Steve Lawrence shared his fellow mayors’ vehement stance. He stacked the principles of tourism and safety, claiming the two had clashed.

“This is a beautiful Gorge and at one level we’re spending millions of dollars to replace the (Historic Columbia River Highway), and at the same time we’re allowing these kinds of trains with volatile Bakken oil to go down the Gorge every day.”

After a safety briefing by Union Pacific in Hood River last year, Lawrence said he asked railroad representatives for details and never received a response.

“I remember asking okay, you have safety measures, could I see that? I was given a card, I called, I communicated, I never got a copy of that plan,” he said.

On Monday night, the City of Cascade Locks joined the other Gorge municipalities in opposing crude-by-rail.

City Council voted 6-0, unanimously passing a resolution urging Brown to “use powers of the state” to oppose oil trains, and asking federal officials to “halt” that transport, citing the Mosier derailment. Councilors pointed out Cascade Locks’ downtown area rests along the train tracks, and highlighted safety and environmental concerns.

City Administrator Gordon Zimmerman said the resolution was the first time Council had officially addressed the oil train issue.

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