Cap on unit trains raised from 17 to 34 per month for Global Partners LP

by: SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: ROBIN JOHNSON - Port commissioners approved a unit train cap increase for Global Partners LP from 17 to 34 unit trains per month. The company requested the increase with the promise to invest $50 million to $70 million in local rail improvements. Global recently purchased the Columbia Pacific Bio-Refinery in Port Westward with the intent to transport petroleum and ethanol products. Port of St. Helens commissioners voted unanimously Wednesday, Nov. 13, to increase a cap on unit trains for the company that purchased the Columbia Pacific Bio-Refinery at the Port Westward industrial park north of Clatskanie earlier this year.

The Massachusetts-based company, Global Partners LP, plans to invest $50 million to $70 million in its local operations to accommodate its doubled maximum allowance of unit trains from 17 per month to 34 per month.

“I’m pleased,” said State Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose. “I think it’s an opportunity for capital improvements in the railroad and an opportunity for additional jobs in Columbia County.”

Many people attended the morning meeting in Columbia City at the Columbia City Community Hall, testifying both in support and in opposition of the increased cap in Global’s monthly allowance of unit trains.

Opponents to the increase brought up public safety, traffic, and environmental concerns regarding the shipment of ethanol and crude oil. Supporters mostly highlighted the need to create jobs within the county. Global representatives recently said the company would add 30 new jobs to the area as a result of expanding its operations to Port Westward.

“The county is dying,” said Rod Richardson, a Columbia County resident and a member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union. “We need to bring some industry here. This opens up paying jobs, we can bring up property value.”

Darrel Whipple of Rainier opposed the increase.

“It’s a mistake, in my opinion, to raise this cap to accommodate Global Partners for their ethanol plant,” he said. “Ethanol production is non-sustainable, subsidized by the federal government and uses more energy than it produces.”

Whipple also highlighted a rail disaster in Alabama in which a 90-car train shipping crude oil derailed and exploded last Friday, spilling oil into a nearby marsh. Other opponents who live near the rail complained about the effects of living next to a rail with increased traffic.

Patrick Trapp, executive director with the Port of St. Helens, said the speed of the trains would increase, but still move at a relatively “safe” speed of no more than 25 mph.

Port Comissioner Mike Avent said Global’s rail traffic would only increase by seven unit trains per month, to a total of 24 unit trains per month, until January 2015, when Global is expected to complete its rail improvements.

Port Commissioner Colleen DeShazer eventually made the motion to pass the resolution.

“I don’t want us to be the catalyst for complaining about everything rail in this county because of Global,” she said before making the motion. “I empathize with those who live next to the rail—I live two miles from the highway... if you don’t like it, move.”

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