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Scappoose council urged to take position on coal trains

Though it takes no action, request exposes councils split opinions


Several Scappoose residents and city officials on Monday continued what has been an emotional countywide — and, in fact, statewide and nationwide — debate over coal export terminals.

Though it took no action, the Scappoose City Council at its regular meeting indicated it would only take a position on the Kinder Morgan proposal to build a coal transport facility at the Port of St. Helens-managed Port Westward Energy Park near Clatskanie, and the resultant coal train traffic, after it had a chance to review impact studies from the Port of St. Helens.

Such studies, however, have not been conducted or commissioned.

Although the city of Scappoose has no authority to regulate railroads, other cities in Oregon and Washington have taken a position on the coal trains. In September, Portland’s City Council voted to oppose coal trains running through the city barring an evaluation from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that outlined the effect of exporting coal through the Northwest.

On Monday, the Port of Coos Bay announced it had halted negotiations with Metro Ports of California, which had been working toward construction of a coal export terminal in Coos Bay. Last week, Gov. John Kitzhaber and Washington’s Gov. Jay Inslee jointly penned a letter to Nancy Sutley, chair of the Council of Environmental Quality, calling for an amplified review of the nation’s coal-export policies.

“I don’t see a problem with taking a position if we get all the info,” said Councilor Mark Reed. “For the city to do nothing could show acquiescence.”

Mayor Scott Burge said the city, in its capacity to take a position, would be sending a message that it disagrees with the Port of St. Helens approval of lease options in advance of studying what effects, including the economic effect on other businesses in the area, the presence of coal trains would prompt.

“It could be saying to the Port, ‘No, we don’t want you to sign these types of contracts,’” Said Mayor Scott Burge. “I’m frustrated that the port is signing contracts to bring these trains in without a study.”

Brian Rosenthal, who owns several commercial properties in Scappoose, asked the council to adopt a resolution requesting a comprehensive assessment of the health, safety and economic impacts to the community that would result from the coal trains. The council said it disagreed with the some aspects of the presented draft resolution, but said it would be willing to entertain a modified version.

Council President Larry Meres said he does not believe the proposed coal projects are issues the city should be considering.

“This is not our fight,” Meres said. “If the Port wants to send coal trains through, they should... I’m not interested in taking a position.”

Scappoose Planning Commissioner Bill Blank highlighted the fact that other Oregon cities, including Eugene and Salem in addition to Portland, have taken a position on coal trains despite having no authority over the federal railways. “They felt that they had to do something for the citizens, to put down on paper where they stood,” Blank said.

Shannon Benner, a Scappoose resident, said she is concerned the longer trains would bisect the city and potentially block emergency vehicles from reaching certain areas during their passage. “If this train comes through, people are moving,” Benner said.

The city once considered building a $40 million overpass in order to maintain traffic flow while long trains pass through, but the cost of such a project is too high and would likely come out of taxpayers’ pockets. “If we’re really concerned about safety, we can build an overpass and that will come out of your pocket,” Meres said.

City Manager Jon Hanken said that, in addition to the steep expense, overpass construction would likely compromise the Fred Meyer, and said it is unlikely ever to come to pass.