Spotlight on oil train impacts

Two weeks ago, Washougal Mayor Sean Guard announced that he planned to spend seven days — 168 hours — camping next to the railroad tracks at 32nd Avenue and Main Street.

“Much of my concern is with how many long trains of coal and Bakken crude oil are passing through our city, but this is also just as much about the increasing train traffic itself, regardless of their loads,” he said.

Vancouver Energy, a joint venture of Tesoro Refining & Marketing Company LLC and Savage Companies, is proposing to accept and ship crude oil that originates in North America and arrives at the Port of Vancouver by rail.

Guard’s ambitious and unusual plan was met with some snickers, jokes and criticism from those mocking his intentions, as well as cheers and kudos from others appreciating his moxie and determination.

Guard and his 30-foot trailer appeared at the scene April 17, and he began recording how many trains passed by, and their impacts on traffic and the safety of the community. He also began welcoming a slew of visitors.

His initial press release didn’t outright say it, but clearly a major focus of Guard’s effort is to garner local and statewide attention on an issue that has the potential to impact the Camas-Washougal communities significantly.

And, it appears to be working.

Critics can say what they will, but Guard’s “vigil,” as he refers to it, has brought more attention to the local issues surrounding oil and coal trains than any other single recent event. And in the spotlight is exactly where this topic should be.

According to a story in today’s Post-Record, Guard said more than 250 people have stopped by the site during the past four days. They came from Seattle, Olympia, Vancouver and Stevenson, and included several BNSF officials and elected leaders.

The future of the transportation of oil and coal is being discussed at several different levels, from the state legislature to the U.S. Senate.

As the mayor of a small town, Guard is successfully doing his part to ensure that the issues that are important to his constituents are heard and recognized.