Opponents of a proposal to build the Northwest's largest oil-by-rail facility at the Port of Vancouver on Tuesday pressed their safety concerns and peppered commissioners with questions in light of the one-year anniversary of the deadly oil-train explosion in Lac-Megantic, Quebec.
The remarks, occurring during the open forum portion of the three-member port commission's regular public hearing, punctuated an otherwise routine meeting. Several residents raised questions about the port's opening of an office in North Dakota — the site of the Bakken crude that would be hauled to the port by train — and highlighted concerns about derailments and oil spills.
Opponents have previously urged commissioners to cancel the port's lease with Tesoro Corp. and Savage Companies. But a tense exchange Tuesday between Eric LaBrant, a resident of Vancouver's Fruit Valley neighborhood, and Commission President Brian Wolfe underscored the ongoing controversy over the proposal by the companies to build a rail-and-river operation handling as much as 380,000 barrels of oil per day for eventual conversion into transportation fuel.
LaBrant noted commissioners unanimously approved the lease with Tesoro and Savage on July 23, 2013, even after the July 6 disaster in Lac-Megantic that killed 47 people and leveled much of the small city's downtown. The lease decision would allow trains loaded with the same volatile Bakken crude involved in the Lac-Megantic explosion to pass "within a mile of my home" four times daily, said LaBrant, a father of two children.
Since the Lac-Megantic catastrophe, more explosive derailments have occurred, LaBrant said. "Is even one of you willing to stand up for my family and neighbors, and say enough is enough?" he asked.
"We support you," Wolfe replied. "We are making every effort to make this process as thorough as possible and the end results as safe as possible to protect your family." Wolfe was referring to the state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council's review of the environmental impacts of the Tesoro-Savage proposal. The council will eventually make a recommendation to Gov. Jay Inslee, who has the final say.
"If the folks on EFSEC and Gov. Inslee feel your needs haven't been met," Wolfe said, "there won't be any terminal here."
"I'm not speaking to EFSEC, I'm speaking to the people who signed the contract," LaBrant said. Then he asked, "Do you understand what you were signing when you got into it?"
"Yep," Wolfe replied.
"So you understood those risks?" LaBrant asked.
"Yep," Wolfe replied.
As LaBrant left the podium, Wolfe added, "I think we did. I think my fellow commissioners did. Obviously, Mr. LaBrant, a lot more has come out following that signature, but that's what the process is for. And we all should believe in the process."
As to the port's work in North Dakota, Theresa Wagner, a port spokeswoman, said the port launched a field office in Williston, N.D., which is not permanently staffed, about six months ago. It allows the port to pursue opportunities to ship more cargo to the Midwest. Steel pipe has been moved from the port to that region, she said, and the port is trying to "build on that and expand."