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Petition presses port to nix oil train operations

Photo Credit: NANCY WHITNEY - Jasmine Zimmer-Stucky reads a petition signed by 235 people calling for the Port of St. Helens to end its lease agreement with Global Partners, LP at Port Westward. The petition cites concerns about the safety of trains carrying crude oil and concerns over Global Partners' legal compliance.

Port of St. Helens commissioners were handed a petition with 235 signatures Wednesday, Oct. 8, calling for an end to oil trains.

The petition, which the nonprofit conservation group Columbia Riverkeeper had circulated, urges the port to sever ties with Global Partners LP, which operates Columbia Pacific Bio-Refinery and ships crude oil on trains through the county to Port Westward.

Port Westward is an industrial park along the Columbia River north of Clatskanie, and is owned by the port and leased to Global Partners and other tenants.

“The Port Commission kept Columbia County residents and emergency responders in the dark about crude-by-rail,” the petition alleges. “The Port of St. Helens and state agencies failed to conduct any public hearings or environmental, health or safety review before crude-by-rail began rolling through our county. Furthermore, in 2013 Global Partners drastically violated the law by bringing in six times more crude oil than permitted. As a result, Global made huge profits by putting our county at risk.”

Jasmine Zimmer-Stucky, community organizer for Columbia Riverkeeper, read the petition to the commission during a public comment portion of the port’s regular meeting.

The petition also states that Columbia County is not prepared to handle an oil train explosion or oil spill, alleging Global Partners “ignored” state permitting laws.

“The [impetus] for this action was the concern for community safety due to the risk of an oil train derailment or a spill in the Columbia River and the lack of transparency that has followed Global and the railroad from the very beginning of their operations in Columbia County,” Zimmer-Stucky stated via email Wednesday. “The Port Commission is responsible for ensuring that the businesses they bring into our region uphold the strong community standards we have developed. It’s unsafe and unfair for Columbia County residents to have an oil terminal that violates state permits by exceeding the amount of oil it is legally allowed to ship. The Port and the railroad should serve as allies to the community instead of covering for Global’s unpermitted operations.”

Port Commission President Robert Keyser and Commissioner Colleen DeShazer were absent at Wednesday’s meeting.

None of the commissioners responded to the petition directly, but Commissioner Mike Avent later asked port staff if informal community meetings could be arranged to allow the public to interact with and ask questions of some of its tenants and prospective tenants.

Patrick Trapp, the port’s executive director, advised the commission that companies like Global would have to agree to the open forum and the events may constitute a public meeting if a majority of the commissioners choose to attend.

Public opposition to oil train operations has increased recently, in light of derailments and, in some cases, deadly explosions from trains carrying crude oil in the United States and Canada.

Earlier this year, Global Partners announced it would only use newer, safer tank car designs to transport oil. The news came three months before the company unveiled plans to start producing ethanol at its biorefinery at Port Westward.

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