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Monday, February 26, 2024
Feb. 26, 2024

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Two arrested at oil terminal protest in west Vancouver

Demonstrators block BNSF Railway tracks, protest proposed facility

By , Columbian staff writer
3 Photos
Anti-fossil fuel protesters block BNSF Railway tracks in Vancouver to demonstrate against the Vancouver Energy oil terminal around noon on Monday.
Anti-fossil fuel protesters block BNSF Railway tracks in Vancouver to demonstrate against the Vancouver Energy oil terminal around noon on Monday. (Dameon Pesanti/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Two men protesting the proposed Vancouver Energy oil terminal were arrested during a demonstration Monday that blocked BNSF Railway tracks in west Vancouver.

Around 11:30 a.m., around 20 protesters blocked tracks that intersect West 11th Street near the Amtrak Station and the Port of Vancouver. The protest lasted for about an hour until BNSF police took the two men into custody.

BNSF spokesman Gus Melonas said the men were charged with criminal trespassing, criminal conspiracy and possibly other charges. Their names were not released.

A few of the protesters laid across the tracks and chained themselves to flower pots which were placed around them — what the demonstrators called a “popup garden” of sunflowers. Others stood close by or held a big banner urging Gov. Inslee to reject the terminal.

Jessie Braverman, a spokeswoman for Shut Down Fossil Fuels, said the group’s goal was to stop an oil train and send a message to the governor about the Vancouver Energy oil terminal.

“We’re here to demand Gov. Inslee say no to the Tesoro-Savage terminal,” she said. “If he doesn’t stop it, we will.”

In a news release, the group said the 2016 Union Pacific oil train derailment in Mosier, Ore., and the threats fossil fuel extraction, production and transportation pose to communities and the environment as motivating factors behind the demonstration as well.

If built, the terminal would be the largest in the United States, capable of handling an average of 360,000 barrels of oil per day. Crude oil would arrive by train, be pumped into tanks and stored before being transferred to ships and barges that would journey down the Columbia River to distant refineries.

The proposal is being evaluated by the Energy Facility Siting Evaluation Council, but Inslee will have the final say on whether the project is actually built.

Roben White stood off to the side and watched as police blocked people from stepping on the tracks and hovering over those who wouldn’t step off them.

He described the protesters as “brave souls trying to save the human race.”

“Oil or coal — these people don’t want this stuff in the (Columbia River) Gorge,” he said.

About 15 police from BNSF and Vancouver were on hand to quell the demonstration. Near the end of the event, they sectioned off the block with barricade tape.

Melonas said demonstrators blocked two rail lines, but then moved to just one. Train traffic was stopped for a half hour, but when the second line opened, trains were switched to an adjacent mainline and passed through the area at 5 mph. An oil train, a merchandise train and three trains that were being switched in the company’s yard were affected.

“It’s a safety issue and an obstruction of operation. If they’re going to voice their opinion, voice it off of our property,” Melonas said. “These trains are moving freight that all of us depend upon.”

Melonas also said the company had information that protesters had planned to appear Sunday and so it responded with extra BNSF police and staff on hand, but the demonstrators didn’t materialize until the day after.

Melonas added that 13 people have died trespassing on BNSF tracks this year so far.

“We want the public to realize trains move on any track at any time at any direction,” he said.

In June 2016, a similar, but larger, demonstration took place in the same location. It was held as a response to the Mosier, Ore., derailment that happened at the start of that month.

Twenty-one people who blocked the tracks were arrested at that event.

Columbian staff writer