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Oil train briefings: What’s going on and what’s coming up

As organizers and citizens take a breather from keeping massive coal export terminals out of Longview and Cherry Point, the campaign to stop Warren Buffett from transporting the explosive Bakken crude on his BNSF trains through our state for export to Asia is gaining ground.

Quite an opening sentence, but it’s quite a movement that is forming. Here’s some of the things going on.

Vancouver City Council Resolution: May 19, 2014 Work Session
Spokane, Bellingham, Edmonds and Seattle passed resolutions basically asking that the Governor and other state agencies refrain from permitting increased capacity at refineries or oil terminals until all the facts are in.

The City Council of Vancouver, however, has enough facts. Their draft resolution, which now has five of seven council members in support, says NO to the 360,000 barrel/day Tesoro/Savage oil terminal and asks the Port of Vancouver to cancel the lease and asks the Governor and the Washington State Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council (EFSEC) to reject the proposal. In addition, the resolution makes it clear that the City Council does not want oil trains coming through their city, such as those proposed to go to three possible oil tank terminals in Grays Harbor.

There will no doubt be more resolutions coming. Organizers have been approaching city council members in Anacortes, Aberdeen, Centralia, Chehalis, Napavine, Oakville, Ocean Shores and other cities.

You can contact Don Steinke, lead organizer in Vancouver, if you want a copy of the City of Vancouver resolution: crvancouverusa@gmail.com.

Federal Railroad Administration Emergency Orders: May 7, 2014
Derailments with fiery explosions seem to generate one impotent emergency order after another, but the recent derailment in Lynchburg, Virginia on April 30 where one of the newly designed rail cars fell into the James River,—punctured and exploded—created an emergency order with some teeth.

Emergency Order DOT-OST 2014-0067 of May 7, 2014 directs railroad carriers transporting in a single train one million gallons or more of Bakken crude from the Williston Basin to notify the State Emergency Response Commission of their expected movement through the state. In our state, the notification must arrive by June 6, 2014. Failure to comply is subject to civil penalties of up to $175,000 for each violation per day.

Sadie Whitener, State Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Coordinator, Washington State Emergency Response Commission, PO Box 47659, Olympia, 98504, is the person in charge of receiving the information. Email: swhi461@ecy.wa.gov.

Derailments in Grays Harbor County: April 29, May 9, May 15, and May 21
Speaking of derailments, there have been four on the short line railroad (PSAP) that is supposedly gearing up to carry 100 to 150 car unit trains filled with Bakken crude from Centralia, along the Chehalis River, through Oakville, Porter, Elma, Montesano, Aberdeen, and into the Port of Grays Harbor.

PSAP railroad is owned by the largest short line railroad company in the U.S., Genesee and Wyoming. It was a Genesee and Wyoming (G&W) train that derailed 26 Bakken oil tankers in Aliceville, Alabama in November, 2013. Clean up costs are estimated at $3.9 million.

Luckily for citizens, businesses and schools along the rail line in Grays Harbor, the derailments appeared to be carrying only grain, one derailed in Central Park and two in Aberdeen. In Aberdeen, one derailment left seven rail cars blocking the Walmart Store and put the tracks out for five days.

Amazingly, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) with inspectors sufficient to inspect less than 1% of the nation’s rail system, sent an inspector to Grays Harbor. The Washington State Utilities and Transportation Commission is assisting.

For more information on the results of these investigations, contact: Kathy Hunter at the WUTC (360) 664-1257 khunter@utc.wa.gov or the FRA folks: Kevin Thompson, Associate Ad-ministrator for Communication, kevin.thompson@dot.gov or Michael England, Public Affairs Specialist, Michael.england@dot.gov

You can also follow the events in Grays Harbor by subscribing to the Grays Harbor Daily World, where the courageous editor, Doug Barker, has come out opposed to the proposed oil terminals in Grays Harbor or by contacting Friends of Grays Harbor through rd@FOGH.org.

Is there a tanker in their TIGER?
Organizers in Lewis County obtained a copy of the Port of Centralia’s application to the US Department of Transportation for $9 million dollars in federal funds (TIGER) to turn the PSAP railroad from Centralia to Grays Harbor into “a major export corridor for goods moving to Asia” on “very long” unit trains that have become the standard for PSAP customers.

There are some amazing statements in their application that would make one wonder why there should be any train traffic on this line until G&W puts up some of its considerable resources to improve it. These statements might explain why there have been so many recent derailments.

Statements like, “For the past two years freight volume peaks…have overwhelmed the line.” Or, “all three bridges within the PSAP rail corridor are roughly a century old and well past the operational life span for which they were designed.” Or maybe this one about curves, “freight volumes and weights constantly threaten to spread the rail out of gauge.”

Probably the most egregious part of this application is that nowhere in the 32 page narrative or in the accompanying documents are the three proposed oil terminals at Grays Harbor mentioned or the possibility of this railroad carrying 100 to 150 car unit trains of Bakken oil. This absence led one observer to suggest that the application is actually a bait and switch. The application says their line is overwhelmed by grains, autos, and machinery, but, he said, more profitable oil trains would take precedence.

Organizers with the Lewis County for Safe Rails are considering making public comments to the US DOT, National Infrastructure Investments Program, 1200 New Jersey Avenue, Washington, DC 20590. (202) 366-0301. TIGERgrants@dot.gov. For a copy of the application, write to Amy Due, Public Records Officer, Port of Centralia, 3508 Galvin Rd. Centralia. 98531 (360) 736-3527.You can reach the Lewis County Safe Rails group through Larry Kerschner. Larry@peacepoet.me

Peoples hearings on oil trains
There was a Peoples Hearing on Oil Trains in Spokane, Washington on May 21 and organizers are planning another for July 10 in Seattle. For more information, contact Ahmed Gaya. adgaya@gmail.com

Statewide Strategy Summit

Save the dates: Friday, August 22 and Saturday, August 23 at The Evergreen State College Long House, building on local successes and creating a statewide movement. For more information, danleahy43@yahoo.com

Dan Leahy is a Westside resident and proud member of the Decatur Raiders.

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