Citing threats to public safety, the head of Vancouver’s firefighters union told Port of Vancouver commissioners Tuesday that the union opposes a proposal to build the nation’s largest rail-to-ship oil-transfer terminal at the Port of Vancouver.
The city is “not staffed appropriately” and “we don’t have the training, and we don’t have the equipment to effectively respond to an emergency at the oil terminal,” Mark Johnston, president of the Vancouver Firefighters Union IAFF Local 452, told port commissioners during the port’s regular public meeting. The meeting was packed with opponents of the oil terminal (one attendee spoke favorably about the terminal) who blasted the port for hiding information from people and ignoring their safety concerns. Critics also urged the port to cancel its lease with Tesoro Corp., a petroleum refiner, and Savage Cos., a transportation company, in the face of a string of explosive oil train derailments in the U.S. and Canada.
“We’re not risk-averse,” said Johnston, whose union represents about 185 firefighters with the city and Clark County Fire District 5. “But we understand a disaster down here would be catastrophic,” not only for the community, and the port and its neighbors, “but for the first responders as well.”
In a phone interview Tuesday, Vancouver Fire Chief Joe Molina said his formal position on an oil terminal at the port is the same as that of the Vancouver City Council, which opposes the project and has imposed a moratorium on establishing or expanding crude oil-handling facilities in the city.
But regardless of what happens with the oil terminal, oil trains already are running through Vancouver, he noted. “The risk appears to be here to stay, so let’s try to get our arms around how much of a risk it is to our jurisdiction,” he said.