Lawmaker watches as crude oil train rumbles through Milwaukie
State Rep. Karin Power, D-Milwaukie, was driving with her 3-year-old son through town on the evening of Friday, Sept. 20, when a surprise sight ruined their usually favorite trainspotting hobby. Rail cars carrying crude oil, which display a 1267 label, came barreling past them at they approached Harrison Street.
She provided this public statement:
"My son and I were heading to Mike's Drive-In when I saw the 1267-marked cars rolling through Milwaukie. Trains are normally a highlight of our day since he's 3, but not these kind. I'm deeply concerned about this hazardous crude oil being transported right through the middle of our community. These tracks pass right by daycares, homes, parks and schools. The public deserves to know whether more of these oil trains will be coming through our counties, and my office will be following up with the state Office of the Fire Marshall to learn more."
Milwaukie Mayor Mark Gamba said he was not aware that tar-sands crude was being routed through the city. He said that the sighting of crude oil in Milwaukie "seems out of the way" since Canadian oil's route to Asia is moving by rail through Washington to a shipping terminal in Portland.
Portland has been exporting hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil to China through the Zenith Energy terminal on the Willamette River. Oregon Department of Transportation spokeswoman Shelley Snow said said the agency's hazardous materials inspectors are aware of the shipments and regularly inspect the area.
Public records and interviews with state officials indicate those trains carry a kind of heavy oil that presents a new risk for Northwest communities and rivers. One the state's emergency spill responders say they are ill-equipped to contain crude oil if it spills.
"It greatly complicates the spill. It's going to take a lot more money and time and cause a lot more harm to the environment probably," said Scott Smith, who regulates the Zenith terminal's oil spill preparedness as part of the Oregon DEQ emergency response program.
He said the increased oil-by-rail traffic creates a risk in Portland of an environmental disaster like the one in Michigan in 2010, when heavy Canadian oil spilled from a pipeline into the Kalamazoo River. It took more than five years and $1 billion to clean up.
"It's really among the most challenging spills we have out there, and if it was a large spill, it would cause quite a bit of damage," Smith said.
OPB, a Pamplin Media Group news partner, contributed to this report.
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