Oil terminal hearing attracts area residents

Additional comments will be heard today at the Clark County Event Center

The creation of jobs versus potential risks to the environment were two of the issues mentioned by people who attended a public hearing about an oil terminal.

The proposed transfer project could be located at the Port of Vancouver, if Gov. Jay Inslee approves it.

Tim Young, chairman of the Skamania County Fire District 4 commission, mentioned a concern for injuries or fatalities if a crude oil fire or explosion occurred along the area’s rail transportation corridor. The district provides fire protection and emergency medical services at the west end of Skamania County. That includes a portion of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area.

Young said there are approximately seven miles of BNSF Railway Company tracks in the fire district, starting from the Clark-Skamania county line in the west to Smith-Cripe Road in the east.

“Approximately five miles of BNSF tracks in the district are inaccessible by fire apparatus,” he said. “Additional training, apparatus, manpower and Class B foam do not address the inaccessibility of these locations.”

Young was among the participants of a Jan. 5 public hearing in front of the Washington State Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council, at the Clark County Event Center, in Ridgefield.

The EFSEC, which has issued a draft environmental impact statement for public review and comment, will make a recommendation to Inslee concerning approval or denial of the facility. The purpose of the EIS is to evaluate the potential environmental impacts of constructing and operating the terminal.

The Skamania County Fire District 4 commission approved a resolution in July 2015, requesting Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell and Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler work with the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials & Safety Administration, National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Railroad Administration to stop Bakken oil train traffic through the district, Skamania County and the gorge.

The commission also requested the development of federal legislation that would require railroads to demonstrate the capability to provide required hazardous materials response, including fire suppression of Bakken crude oil fires in the gorge.

Young said FD 4 urges the state to deny the site certification application for the oil transfer terminal project due to the fire and life safety risks and impacts to the district, Skamania County and the gorge.

Keith Brown, a Skamania County resident, recommended denial of the terminal.

He is a former firefighter and fire commissioner.

“No amount of training, nor promise of resources, can mitigate for the damage that would ensue from a derailment and oil fire,” Brown said. “Before volunteer firefighters could arrive on scene, the flames from a ruptured oil tanker would have moved up the side of the cliffs, into the crown of the forest, and with the strong west and east winds, likely jump over SR14 and beyond.

“With three-fourths of the railroad tracks highly inaccessible and the forest engulfed in flames, there would be no way to suppress this fire,” he added. “Those residents living close to the tracks and hikers — 400 to 500 a day on a weekend — may be trapped and will perhaps perish along the Cape Horn trail.”

Brown, a board member of the Friends of the Columbia Gorge, encouraged EFSEC members to take a field trip to the Cape Horn area to see the residents, wildlife and scenery that he said would be at risk if the number of oil trains increases.

“While you wouldn’t be asking us to play Russian Roulette, you would most certainly be asking us to play Railroad roulette with no way of opting out of this deadly game,” he said.

Other speakers included a husband and wife who own a company that provides fly fishing guide services on the Deschutes River, a retired teacher, two Hood River city councilors and several members of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. Each speaker was limited to two minutes.

During a break between the afternoon and evening sessions of the public hearing, Lee Newgent, executive secretary of the Washington State Building & Construction Trades Council, AFL-CIO, said the state’s economy has a deep investment in energy.

“The oil terminal would be built on former aluminum smelter land, which has been cleaned up,” he said. “It is privately funded investment and will provide local employment.

“It would use existing industrial property and revalue it, so it has a return on investment,” Newgent added.

If the oil terminal project is approved by Inslee, Vancouver Energy would accept and ship crude oil that originates in North America and arrives at the Port of Vancouver by rail. The oil would be temporarily stored in tanks, then transferred to double-hulled vessels, shipped to West Coast refineries and converted into transportation fuels for American consumption.

Vancouver Energy is a joint venture of Tesoro Refining & Marketing Company LLC and Savage Companies.

Newgent said the issue of whether to open an oil terminal at the port is “emotionally loaded.”

“I would not condemn opponents’ thoughts or views, but it’s our livelihood,” he said. “We maintain the trains and the safety standards. These are our jobs and income.

“We have a vested interest in the safety of the project and product,” Newgent added. “We are the front line environmentalists. We would be affected if there was a fire or spill.”

The building trades group has approved a resolution in support of the oil terminal project.

According to Vancouver Energy, Clark County and the surrounding areas would benefit with approximately 320 full-time jobs during the construction of the oil terminal. There would be another 176 on-site and 440 off-site employees needed to operate the facility.

Matthew Hepner, executive director of the Certified Electrical Workers of Washington, said the proposed oil terminal is about creating jobs and “saving the middle class.”

“It’s about pensions, health care and retirement plans,” he said.

“The trains are coming this way, regardless of whether the terminal is built here,” Hepner added.

David Arnett, an electrical engineer who lives in Vancouver, said he testified in front of the EFSEC, because he was concerned about future businesses that want to come to Washington state.

“I talked because of a concern for companies that want to relocate here or start up here,” he said. “They should know they will get a fair chance to start their businesses, and our decisions will play by the rules.”

During an intermission of the public hearing, Richenda Fairhurst, pastor of Camas United Methodist Church, emceed a rally against the proposed oil terminal. Many of the terminal’s opponents wore red clothing, while some of the people who are in favor of the project were dressed in blue.

Another public hearing and open house will be held in front of the EFSEC today, from 5 to 11 p.m., or after the last speaker, also in the Clark County Event Center at the Fairgrounds, Hall B, 17402 N.E. Delfel Road. Admission and parking are free.

The draft EIS is available online at www.efsec.wa.gov/TesoroSavage/SEPA-20DEIS/DEISPAGE.shtml.It can also be viewed at the Vancouver Community Library, 901 “C” St.; Cascade Park Community Library, 600 N.E. 136th Ave., Vancouver; and the Vancouver Mall Library Connection, 8700 N.E. Vancouver Mall Drive, Ste. 285.

Comments on the impact statement will be accepted through Friday, Jan. 22. Comments can be submitted online at https://ts.efsec.wa.gov/ or by mail at: State of Washington Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council, P.O. Box 43172, Olympia, WA 98504.

Questions about the environmental review process can be directed to Sonia E. Bumpus, EFSEC siting specialist/project manager, at 664-1363 or by email at sbumpus@utc.wa.gov.