Ports continue to say 'yes' to oil, gas train shipments that could be risky business

I would like to respond to arguments raised by proponents of the increasing number of the highly explosive petroleum trains now coming through our communities.

First, it’s clear that the petroleum being shipped through the country is much more dangerously explosive than petroleum has been historically. Recent news reports makes this clear: what’s being shipped has very high levels of propane and butane gas in it. The companies could remove this before loading their trains, but they make more money if they ship it with the high gas content in it.

Second, four of these trains have recently blown up in derailments: Quebec (47 dead, the town a wreck), Alabama, New Brunswick and North Dakota.

Third, all the oil trains coming from North Dakota to Columbia County are going to Port Westward near Clatskanie. The railroad claims that proposed improvements are being made in the track to make things “safer.” Yet my review of these improvements — e.g. in downtown Rainier — is to allow double the number of trains, at double the speed, thus greatly increasing the risk to we who live and work here, and the risk to our children at schools located near the tracks.

Yet the response of a number of people, including Port Commissioner Colleen DeShazer, is that the trains were here before we were and therefore we have no right to be concerned about the threat posed by these trains to our families and homes, because we chose to build our communities near the tracks. DeShazer tells us, if we don’t like it, leave.

They also claim that state and local officials can’t prevent the petroleum-laden trains coming through our community, no matter how dangerous. The third argument appears to be that, if we stopped the trains, then the same shipments would come by truck, which would be worse, so we should be happy with the trains.

All of these arguments are nonsense. First, just because the railroad track was here before we were born doesn’t mean that trains should be allowed to expose our families to high levels of danger. We have a right as citizens to protect our communities and families from big and powerful corporations who think their profits are more important than the lives of our families.

Second, the argument that local governments can’t regulate the passage of these trains through our communities is also nonsense. If it weren’t for the actions of the Port of St. Helens recently soliciting and allowing the petroleum terminal at Port Westward, there would be nowhere for the trains to go, and therefore no trains. It is noteworthy that the Port of Portland has determined that they won’t allow any petroleum export terminal within its jurisdiction because of these same safety issues. Yet the Port of St. Helens, that controls the Port Westward terminal, apparently thinks these risks to us are fine. The people we elected approved it, and are now approving a vast increase in the number of petroleum trains which will pass through. The port only had to say “no.” But instead they continue to say “yes” to this dangerous traffic.

If more and more of these trains continue to come, sooner or later there will be a disaster. The safety of our kids and our homes is more important than whether Big Oil is getting rich. The Port of St. Helens is the key to this.

Michael Sheehan is a resident of Scappoose.

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