AP Photo/Matthew Brown
The Astoria City Council on Monday night joined other cities along the Columbia River in opposing a proposed oil terminal project, but only after City Councilor Bruce Jones did some reading and rewrote the resolution.
Environmental advocacy group Columbia Riverkeeper and local activists had asked the council in July to adopt a resolution against the Tesoro Savage terminal project proposed for Washington’s Port of Vancouver, saying it threatens the health of the Columbia River estuary. They said the project could “dramatically increase” the danger of an oil spill.
After working with city staff, they submitted a resolution to the council that reflected their concerns in general and the concerns they believed were especially unique to Astoria’s position at the mouth of the river.
“It is very important for the mouth to have a voice,” said Dan Serres, conservation director for Columbia Riverkeeper.
The terminal would have a daily output of 360,000 barrels of crude oil, which would be carried by five mile-and-a-half long trains and then put on tankers to cross the Columbia River Bar.
Though the City Council as a whole shared the group’s concern for the safety of the estuary, Jones, a retired Sector Columbia River Commander for the U.S. Coast Guard, said in July that he needed to look at safety standards, studies and environmental impact statements before he could sign a resolution.
After conducting research and looking into a derailment that occurred last summer in Mosier that released 42,000 gallons of oil into the environment, Jones was ready to make his decision.
He was against the terminal project.
There were still too many safety concerns on the rail side of things and no guarantee that state and federal recommendations to increase rail safety would be followed, or implemented in a timely manner, he said.
“I think they ought to work those kinks out somewhere other than these sensitive environmental areas,” he said.
But he wanted to make sure the resolution the City Council adopted was well-rounded and reflected the council’s views. He submitted his own rewrite of the environmental groups’ resolution for the other councilors to consider. There was nothing wrong with the resolution from Columbia Riverkeeper and the activist groups, he said later, but it reflected a one-sided view of the issue.
“I think the benefits of the terminal project to Astoria definitely don’t outweigh the risks,” City Councilor Zetty Nemlowill said. She added that, given Jones’ expertise and the time he put into researching the matter, “I’m glad that you came to the conclusion that you came to because if you didn’t I wouldn’t know quite what to do tonight.”
The entire City Council was in favor of adopting Jones’ version of the resolution, with one change. In his version, he removed a paragraph stating Astoria’s solidarity with the cities of Portland, Spokane, Vancouver and Seattle and the Columbia River treaty tribes in opposing the project. People who testified Monday night urged the council to put that wording back in. Mayor Arline LaMear agreed and the paragraph was added back into the resolution.
At Councilor Cindy Price’s urging, the council also agreed to submit its resolution to Washington’s Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council, which is still accepting testimony on the project. The site evaluation council is expected to make its final recommendation to Washington Gov. Jay Inslee this year.