Officials hear overwhelming opposition to crude terminals

An account of Aberdeen’s public hearing on proposed oil holding facilities at which community members raised their voices against these dirty and dangerous projects. YOU can submit a comment here through the end of October. 

By Jake Schild and Kyle Mittan 
The Daily World 
October 9, 2015 

Locals and people from across the state voiced their fears and concerns about the possibility of the shipment and storage of crude oil on Grays Harbor Thursday during the second and final public comment period for the proposed crude oil storage facilities at the Port of Grays Harbor.

Opponents of oil far outnumbered supporters of the projects proposed by Westway Terminals and Renewable Energy Group, which acquired Imperium, the biofuel producer that originally launched the proposal. Representatives from both companies spoke.

Oil Rally in Aberdeen

Photo Credit: Kyle Mittan, The Daily World

Roughly 250 people signed up to speak at the public hearings at Aberdeen’s D &R Theatre, with the first session from 1 to 4 p.m. and the second picking up at 6 p.m. and going until 9. An anti-oil rally preceded the second comment session, helping to bolster turnout.

During both sessions, members of the public and elected officials made their way up to the podium to speak in front of Paula Ehlers, the Department of Ecology’s shorelands and environmental assistance manager for the southwest region, and Hoquiam City Administrator Brian Shay, who were among the five people on stage facilitating the event. Those who spoke were given two minutes to voice their opinions and were promptly stopped by facilitators once time was up.

Comments made at the hearing, or those that are mailed in or submitted online, will be taken into consideration by the Department of Ecology before it drafts a final version. Some concerns raised by commenters may prompt further research.

Those against the proposed facilities spoke of the possible risk associated with the transport and storage of crude oil, including everything from derailments to the project’s possible impacts on wildlife and climate change. The cost of a potential oil spill or derailment was brought up a number of times during the hearings, and Aberdeen Ward 5 City Councilman Alan Richrod said in the case of a disaster, taxpayers would foot the bill.

“According to the leading industrial insurance actuaries, the amount of coverage in the available insurance market is completely insufficient to cover a worst case oil train derailment scenario, such as Lac-Mégantic,” Richrod said, citing the infamous 2013 rail disaster in Quebec that killed 47 people. “So, if there’s no insurance coverage, who does cover it? In all cases, taxpayers.”

Local architect Bob Ford talked about the possibility of a natural disaster making things worse in the event that oil trains made their way through Aberdeen. He talked about landslides caused by last January’s floods, specifically referring to the possibility of a slide along Highway 12 above the railroad tracks.

“(A landslide last year) had come down and hit Highway 12, knocked out the guardrail, went past the railroad and touched the water. What if that would’ve been the Bakken crude oil train?” he asked the panel.

Scott Hedderich, Renewable Energy Group’s director of corporate affairs, kicked off the hearing with his owns comments, beginning by stressing that the company is reviewing “how this potential development impacts our business.”

“Today, we’re here to listen and to learn,” he said. “We’ll be sure to factor in economic impacts, regulatory compliance concerns and community opinions in our decision-making template.”

Westway Terminals Grays Harbor Terminal Manager Steve Williams also had a chance to comment before a break in the first round of comments.

“The expansion of our terminal represents a long-term commitment to the community,” Williams said. “Westway is committed to hiring locally and using locally sourced products whenever possible. As a native, I know how eager folks are to get back to work.”

The crowd of those hoping to have their voices heard wasn’t just from Grays Harbor County. Those in disagreement with the proposed plan came from Hood River, Ore., Portland, Olympia, Seattle, Spokane and Cowlitz County, among other areas.

Ellen Leatham came from Portland and let representatives from Ecology know she was worried about the Grays Harbor projects affecting those in Oregon.

“Anything that happens at the mouth of the Columbia affects not just the Pacific Ocean, but everything all the way up the Columbia,” she said. “We’re already tracking coal dust in the river way up there.”

Rein Attemann came to the comment period to speak on behalf of Spokane City Council President Ben Stuckart. Attemann used to live in Spokane and made the trip from Seattle. He said he and Stuckart don’t know what the Eastern Washington city would do if oil trains came through.

“It is the gateway to Washington trains, so they’re witnessing a huge increase in oil trains coming through their community,” he said. “That railroad is elevated through most of downtown and over an interstate and a major river. If there was a derailment, the catastrophic consequences would be dramatic.”

“The railroad tracks go along schools, hospitals and business,” Attemann added. “It really is putting those community members at risk every time an oil train goes through.”

Hood River, Ore., City Councilman Peter Cornelison said the project would bring two additional trains each day through the Gorge area, doubling the number of trains that run the route on daily basis now.

“It’s like an additional roll of the dice in a way,” he said, adding that a spill in the region would ruin the fish ladders, which would then likely take up to a year to replace in an area whose economy depends on the fishing industry. “To any of us, it’s a nightmare.”

The Gorge area also sent the hearing’s youngest commenter. Daeuthen Dahlquist, 11, from White Salmon, made the trip with his mother, Brynn Dahlquist, to read his statement.

“The DEIS needs to address the necessity of this area for species other than humans,” Daeuthen Dahlquist told officials.

The hearing wasn’t without its drama, with Hoquiam resident Robin Moore capitalizing on the theater atmosphere to adapt lines from Hamlet as part of her comment.

“To permit or not to permit, that is the question,” Moore said. “Whether ‘tis nobler in the minds to suffer the slings and arrows of a possible lawsuit, or to take up arms against the sea of disastrous environmental impacts, and, by opposing, end them.

Moore’s comments came to a head when she removed an artificial skull from her jacket pocket, and, in an attempt to recreate the play’s classic “gravedigger scene,” compared Shay to Yorick, the court jester whose skull is exhumed.

“Alas, poor Brian,” Moore said, launching into the closing portion of her monologue. “I knew you, Horatio. Where be your gibes now? Your gambols? Do not gamble with our future; deny the permits.”

Another performance during the second comment session came close to derailing the entire hearing, as four members of the Portland Raging Grannies, a social activist group, attempted to splice together two consecutively numbered public comment passes to sing in the melody of “She’ll Be Comin’ ‘Round the Mountain.”

“We present an urgent message here today / Don’t develop Westway down in Grays Harbor,” they sang, making no attempt to rhyme. “All the dangers, fumes and fires are well known though some conspire to erect a terminal to have their way.”

As the group’s first two minutes wrapped up, they tried explaining they had collected two comment passes, intended to be used consecutively. The hearing’s facilitator saw things differently, and asked the group to sit. A short dispute led to a five-minute recess of the hearing, but no further consequences.

Some, like Portland resident Harlan Shober, took a much more admonishing and straight-faced approach to their time at the podium.

“If you turn this Harbor into a glistening, stinking slew of oil, no one will forgive you. You will have no place to run and no place to hide,” he told the panel. “If you let this go forward, my children will have no place to run and no place to hide.”

Ocean Shores Councilwoman Jackie Farra also didn’t mince words.

“I don’t have a lot to say because I’m so ashamed of what’s been going on here,” she said. “I wish I was not here tonight to have to tell you that you should all go away right after you say, ‘No.’ Brian (Shay), I’m especially upset with you. I guess because of your position where you were able to deny this a long time ago along with Port commissioners.”

As the only supporter of the projects not directly affiliated with the companies asking for permits, Westport resident Ray Brown downplayed the hazards many had cited, adding that neither project would “go from zero to 60 instantly.”

“Trains go through towns as they always have, carrying hazardous material as they always have,” Brown said. “As issues crop up, there will be plenty of time to deal with them and figure things out. The hysteria surrounding this issue is just that — hysteria.”

Ehlers heard many of the comments directly from her seat on the stage. She said the process worked well and that she was pleased with the issues many had brought.

Ehlers added that the list of areas where the department would conduct further research is already being drafted, but that she couldn’t be more specific.

Thursday’s hearing was the final event the Department of Ecology will host during the public comment period for the draft environmental impact statements, though the period runs through Oct. 29. Comments may still be submitted online and through the mail.

Information on submitting comments can be found on Ecology’s website.

The final EIS is anticipated for release sometime in 2016.

Read the original article here.