Research needed

to settle coal issue

At the Monday, April 15, Scappoose City Council meeting, Paula Miranda, a representative of the Port of St. Helens, argued that the city of Scappoose should not request research to find out the impacts of up to 1,440 coal rail cars passing through Scappoose because the Port is not certain if the coal rail deal will be finalized.

Apparently, the Port believes that gathering information before entering a final deal that would change life in Columbia County as we know it is unnecessary because any research would be premature.

Coal unit trains include about 120 railcars, about 1 1/3 miles long and could cause huge negative transportation, emergency access, quality of life, property value, and business impacts.

The Port representative failed to tell the city about its 35-page option contract with Kinder Morgan entered into January 2012 where the Port has received about $140,000, or the fact that the option expires in a few months. Instead, the Port advised the city that there is no deal yet, the Port is not sure a final deal will go through, and any research at this point would be premature.

The Port’s representative also explained that a 2009 rail transportation safety study designed for four unit trains per week was good enough research to justify the possible forty to fifty unit trains that the Port’s current bulk oil and coal deals could generate. Scott Burge, mayor of Scappoose, stood up for the people and businesses of Scappoose and corrected the Port’s representative. Mayor Burge pointed out that a study designed for three to four unit trains is not the same as a study showing that forty or more trains is equally acceptable.

The people and businesses of Scappoose are entitled to research and not the mere assertion by the Port that no research is necessary. It is never premature to gather information, especially about a topic that will change life in Columbia County as we know it. The Port has revealed that it is adamantly against gathering information, therefore, the city must act fast to voice its concern that research must be done. If the Kinder Morgan deal is finalized, it may be too late for the city, its people and its businesses to speak up.

The Port representative also failed to mention that in the Kinder Morgan contract, the Port is entitled to a road overpass or underpass on Port property at Kinder Morgan’s expense if it is deemed necessary. I believe the cities of Columbia County are due the same consideration, and we need research to see if the semi-automated bulk coal-by-rail deal is good for the county and not just the Port.

Michael Clarke

Port Commissioner candidate

You can’t ‘stop’

the coal trains

Various letters to the editor and other published “information” suggests that somehow a few additional trains locally will blacken sheets on clotheslines, disrupt traffic, kill and maim, and generally cause havoc. Some incorrectly state that the line between Portland and Clatskanie is near capacity. All of this is false; the line could easily handle several more trains than presently.

I retired after 40 years’ experience on numerous railroad positions involved with issues such as these. I have no dog in this race, won’t make or lose a penny no matter what happens, nor will my pension be affected, so it really doesn’t matter to me whether Columbia County prospers or not, or whether less or more trains run through it; but misinformation as to how railroads function, or promises impossible to keep about “stopping” them, needs to be examined.

Across the river in Washington — Kalama, Woodland, Ridgefield — where a two-track railroad main line parallels our own relatively quiet, dead-end branch line, there’s a daily average total of 50 freight trains allowed to travel 60 mph and ten passenger trains allowed 79 mph. Freight commodities include coal, propane, ammonia, chlorine and fuel oils.

At least three railroads have used those tracks since 1909, yet everyone over there is still alive and well, bedsheets still are white, and motorists, fire and police personnel go about business unhampered.

In contrast, highway deaths, accidents (including spillage), or delays everywhere occur regularly; and, oddly enough, with seeming public indifference.

A railroad is a “common carrier” — a legal term, federal in nature — subject to interstate commerce law, which supersedes local regulation.

Common Carriers must accept any commodity offered to them; they cannot pick and choose based on likes or dislikes of any commodity. Railroads (and trucks) are governed by several thick volumes of 49 CFR (Code of Federal Regulations) prescribing safety and cautionary procedures for every aspect of operation, including shipments requiring special handling or considered hazardous.

Twenty years ago, a city in Northwest Washington state became alarmed upon learning that a railroad line into their town, inactive 10 years, was going to be re-opened. Trying to be a good neighbor, the railroad had applied for grading permits and other re-construction work. But the city didn’t want trains tying things up and wasted many taxpayer dollars in legal battles.

The courts ruled against the city, citing precedent; by traditional law and practice, railroads historically engaged in Interstate Commerce had right of eminent domain, and could build or re-open any track, and run as many trains as wished. The court also ruled they were not subject to local ordinance or code, and needed no permits for grading or right-of-way work.

The city thus lost out on permit fees that could have provided revenue; and that railroad line has been used ever since, with several daily freight trains, and no motor traffic tie-ups, calamities or disasters of any consequence.

Sometimes certain elements of railroad operation can be modified, such as establishing horn-free zones, but again, this is granted only by authority higher than local.

Voters basing their decisions only upon promises whether this or that candidate can stop trains face disappointment. Nobody can do that. Temporarily, during a bona fide emergency, railroad operation can be halted, but not otherwise.

Anyone promising to stop trains moving through our county is uninformed, and expenditure of taxpayers’ money on such efforts will only waste your dollars on issues settled years ago. The only way to stop any legal commodity moving by Common Carrier is to eliminate the market for it in the first place.

I fail to see how doing that could create jobs.

Eliminating a market serves to prevent potential jobs. Encouraging, rather than discouraging, commerce and industry is a proper function of a port authority. Additionally, an industrial tax base pays for public works.

(Maybe that’s why public services are cut to the bone in our county?)

Any commodity worth buying, selling or hauling will result in somebody finding a way to do just that; and with no railroad moving things along, instead of a 100-car train at 35 mph passing over each railroad crossing in just under two minutes, in its place, how about 100 or more trucks on Highway 30, stopping at every red light in Scappoose, St. Helens and maybe Rainier and Clatskanie, too, then trying to get back up to speed again? Try that during a commute or shopping trip, and see how you fare.

Last week I asked a locomotive engineer working between Seattle and Portland about coal dust blowing from other freight trains passing by at speed. His locomotive provides a good vantage point.

His reply: “No, not a speck, anyplace, anytime. Coal cars have a waxy top sealant applied, to prevent that.”

David Sprau


The life 911 service saves might be your own

I write to encourage everyone to vote for the renewal of the Columbia County Emergency Communications (911) levy which will be on the ballot this May. There are many reasons for my support, but the foremost is my experience in 1986 when my husband stopped breathing early one morning.

As anyone in that situation would be, I had to reach out for help and called 911. Within a few minutes, volunteers from our local fire department were at the door to help me. As it happened, he did not survive, but the care, concern and professionalism that was afforded to me is indelible on my mind. Although this was in a different county, the operators of our local 911 Center are extremely professional, compassionate and highly trained to help us deal with events of crisis in our lives. I cannot imagine life before 911, and I highly support this levy renewal, as does the Clatskanie City Council.

As a mayor, I am always concerned about the safety of our law enforcement officers and our fire department personnel. The 911 operators are not only concerned with the callers, but also the safety of our emergency services in each area of this county. I listen to a scanner and I am always impressed by the care and concern of 911 for those who are on the front lines defending our safety.

Please vote yes on this renewal. It will not mean an increase in taxes, but a renewal of what we already pay. Someday you might be the one who needs to call 911, and I know you join me in wanting to make sure they are there to help.

Mayor Diane Pohl


Cameras could solve gravel reporting problems

Regarding Darryl Swan’s report on gravel truck traffic and the supposed difficulty, if not reluctance, of enforcing and collecting the county’s depletion fees (See “Gravel trucks excite promise, but also concerns,” April 5), here is an idea: Install cameras at outgoing choke points where most of the gravel trucks are “in open view” — no expectation of privacy. I suggest U.S. 30 at Johnson’s Landing, and near the county line on U.S. 47.

A computer can be programmed to review the video files at high speed on a weekly basis and make tallies by color and text recognition software.

Similar to receiving a traffic camera ticket, the companies could be emailed an electronic file on a monthly basis containing the still images collected, and also a yearly or quarterly bill, with a generous opportunity to adjust the assessments in case of identification error.

Guy Letourneau


With barges, coal is part of our economic solution

Presently, 10 to 15 percent of the actual workers in Columbia County are unemployed, and recently the St. Helens paper mill has closed down.

The front page of the Business section of the April 20 issue of the Oregonian newspaper reported that Greenbrier, the owner of Gunderson steel fabricating plant in Northwest Portland, plans to lay off one-fourth (200 workers) of its workforce between now and August 2013. This could mean more unemployed workers in Columbia County and may cause more home foreclosures and taxes in arrears. The county, cities, school districts and other tax-supported agencies will be facing further hardships.

The sheriff has been warned that he will have to cut his budget by $600,000. Most of the workers who earn a good family wage have to commute out of the county to their jobs. The economy of Columbia County is in dire straits, to say the least.

Citizens of Columbia County, we can have a big part in changing all of this. Support the Port of St. Helens Commission in its efforts to build a strong industrial base in Columbia County with their efforts to land the Morrow Pacific “barge-to-ship” coal transfer facility.

This is probably not the total answer to our economic problems, but it is a good start. It will open the way for more job development right here in Columbia County, followed by a better tax base for the county and its governmental agencies.

Greenbrier (Gunderson steel) has already indicated it will have to hire approximately 350 workers to build the barges if this coal facility is approved.

I urge you to call the Port of St. Helens, our state Sen.Betsy Johnson, Rep. Brad Witt, U.S. Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici, U.S. Senators Wyden and Merkley and urge them to put pressure on the EPA to issue the permits needed to get this project moving.

One more thing you can do is to vote for the two Port of St. Helens commissioners that are up for re-election in May, Chris Iverson and Terry Luttrell.

Fred Yauney


Very mild and common sense’ gun measures

The Democrats in our state Legislature, except for our state Sen. Betsy Johnson, are sponsoring four bills that would: expand background checks to cover private gun sales and transfers (exempting exchanges between family members including domestic partners); prohibit licensed gun owners from openly carrying firearms in public buildings; allow school districts to ban firearms on school grounds if they so choose; require concealed-weapons permit applicants to take a course taught by a live instructor.

These are very mild and common sense measures which 90 percent of us support. Would they prevent another Newtown? Who knows. More effective preventive measures requiring applicants for concealed-weapons permits to pass a firing range test and a ban on military-style rifles and on high-capacity ammunition magazines were dropped under pressure from the NRA.

But even these weak measures are too much for Betsy Johnson. Usually, it doesn’t matter that she’s so out of step with the people she’s supposed to represent. But this time it matters because these bills need every Democrat vote to pass. If Betsy votes against them, as she’s promised she would, they likely will fail.

These bills may come up for a floor vote this week. Betsy may be absent because of injuries sustained when she rear-ended another car near Fred Meyer this week. I’m sorry she’s injured but her absence may help pass these reasonable gun control bills. Karma?

Pat Zimmerman


My concerns

for Bonamici

Our U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici held a town hall meeting Sunday afternoon in Columbia City. There were 60 in attendance.

I had issues, but no opportunity to raise them. They are:

1. End the manner in which the U.S. Justice Department uses “Form 302, Finding of Fact.” When interrogating the subject of a federal investigation, two FBI agents sit down with the target. Rather than film the episode, one asks questions while the other writes down the response. The written answers are the only record of that interview. If the subject of that interview contradicts any of the narrative on Form 302 in open court, he faces a five-year sentence for lying to a federal agent.

The interview should be taped. Recognizing the stress the subject is under, all statements should be open to review and correction in open court. No charges of lying to a federal agent should be threatened. This is nothing more then railroading of federal suspects. Our judicial manner should be above reproach. This is childish.

2. End ethanol subsidies. This industry uses more fossil fuels in its production than savings to the environment it creates. For those who watch their mileage as I do, many noted a 10 percent drop in fuel mileage when alcohol was added. This would also reduce food costs born most critically by calorie-threatened countries. People are starving while the superficial greenies demand their subsidies.

3. Build a comprehensive border fence similar in effect to the one Israel has built to protect itself. It works 100 percent of the time. Boston could have been worse if a “dirty bomb” or small-yield nuclear bomb had been smuggled in.

4. Impose tariffs on countries that steal American patent rights, intellectual property rights and/or licensing agreements.

Wayne Mayo


Contract Publishing

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