Washougal leaders join together in opposing oil terminal

City council, school board adopt resolutions citing grave concerns

By Justin Runquist, Columbian Small Cities Reporter

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Washougal’s elected officials and school district leaders are presenting a united front against the increase of crude oil train traffic through the small city.

This week, both the city council and the school board adopted resolutions expressing grave concerns about the potential for spills, explosions and other major threats to safety through the Columbia River Gorge. The statements come the month before the state Department of Ecology is set to finish a study on whether crude oil can be safely transferred by rail throughout Washington.

The oil-by-rail facility proposed for the Port of Vancouver would be the largest oil terminal in the country, handling a daily average of 360,000 barrels of crude oil, the equivalent of four trains. Few sites throughout the state act as stopping points for oil trains, and Vancouver Energy, a partnership between Tesoro Corp. and Savage Companies, is behind the plan. The site would serve as a transloading terminal to move crude oil from the railway to the ships in the Columbia River.

The proposal remains under review from the state’s Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council. After Vancouver, Washougal becomes the second city in Clark County to take an official stance against the terminal. Washougal also became the first local school district to do the same.

Washougal has already experienced an influx of oil train traffic as oil-by-rail shipping has significantly picked up in recent years.

Ultimately, the Washougal City Council’s resolution gives the go-ahead for the city’s attorney to intervene in the state’s site evaluation process for the proposed terminal. It also states a number of concerns about traffic impact mitigation, and the need for an incident response plan and greater training and equipment for oil train emergencies.

The council’s resolution passed with unanimous support at a sparsely attended meeting. Mayor Sean Guard and councilors Joyce Lindsay and Connie Jo Freeman were absent. Jennifer McDaniel excused herself out of concern for a potential conflict of interest, considering that her husband has ties to the railroad.

Meanwhile, the Washougal School District urged Gov. Jay Inslee to stop oil-by-rail traffic throughout the state until the Department of Ecology has finished its safety study. The district also asked Congress and the Legislature to establish regulations that would provide more transparency for the contents of oil trains and the frequency and duration of their trips through the area.