What legacy will we leave for future generations?
Over the last few years there have been several attempts to build fossil fuel export facilities on both sides of the lower Columbia River.
Most had to follow a process that allowed the public to express their opinions on the proposed developments. All of those export facilities ultimately failed because the people did not want them.
I attended public meetings and testified on both sides of the river. As I recall, the public testimony against these projects had three general themes: concern about pollution in the river and on the ground near railroad rights-of-way; concern about train derailments and explosions; and concern about the future and the legacy we would give to future generations.
It seems that most citizens didn't want a river and a legacy diminished by industrial sacrifice zones.
I attended the Port of St. Helens Commission meeting on Jan. 18. You would have to say, at best, the agenda was murky. It was clear the commission did not want to inform the public what it was up to. A few citizens did attend the meeting and they voiced their opposition to the commission's attempt to approve the revised lease without informing the county's citizens and seeking their opinion. The lease is for 99 years, which means the citizens of the county will have to live with that decision for a very long time.
Several executives from Global Partners made the trip from Boston to attend the meeting. What was in the revised lease that brought them to Columbia City? It's hard to say. The lease is a massive document, which was not even complete when the Port Commission voted 4-to-1 to approve it.
One concern discussed at the meeting was the number of unit trains we could expect when the revised lease is implemented. Using numbers supplied in the revised Oregon Department of Environmental Quality permit No. 05-0023-ST-01, Global Partners will be authorized to store and ship 1,839,600,000 (that's billion) gallons of crude oil or ethanol per year. That translates to 46 unit trains per month going to Port Westward, and 46 unit trains returning from Port Westward, for a total of 92 per month.
Patrick Trapp, the Port's executive director, contends there is a Port-imposed cap on the number of trains, so that only 38 are allowed. However, the DEQ permit cited above is
part of the revised lease agreement that the commissioners approved at the Jan. 18 meeting.
Right now, no one knows how badly this
will tie up traffic, but you will find out when Global's expansion at Port westward is complete.
The commission's approval of the revised lease more specifically means it is approving Global Partners' expansion plans without a public hearing.
During the discussion and before the vote on the revised lease, the commission president tried to justify a vote for approval by pointing out to the parking lot and the cars that need gas. That had two important implications: He wants the commission to focus on the short-term issues and not on the long-term issues and consequences, like climate change or the port's role in shaping our legacy for future generations.
I believe elected officials work for the people. The port commissioners need to help build the county's economy, but they need to do that in a way that doesn't impair our health and safety or our quality of life. When elected officials believe they work for the benefit of corporations, when they act as though it is their job to protect the corporations from the people, something has gone very wrong, and a meaningful legacy for future generations is the first victim.
There is a bright spot on the horizon. This spring there is an election and two seats on the port commission will be on the ballot.
Think about the legacy you want to leave future generations, and then vote.
Jim Lichatowich is the author of two award-winning books about salmon, "Salmon Without Rivers" (1999) and "Salmon People and Place" (2013). His wife, Paulette Lichatowich, serves on the Port of St. Helens Commission. They live in Columbia City.