PORTLAND, Ore. -- There was standing room only today in the Multnomah County boardroom. At issue, the county’s official resolution to oppose crude oil shipments by rail, and any projects that would increase the amount of crude transported through the County.
That includes the Tesoro Savage Vancouver Energy Distribution Terminal. If approved, Tesoro would be the largest oil transport facility in North America.
Commissioners say 26 percent of all county residents live within a half-mile of railroad tracks. In addition, there are 108 schools and 100 childcare facilities that are within a half-mile radius of a county railroad track.
Commissioners say that is a big safety risk.
“This is one of the most heavily populated areas in Oregon, we can't have volatile crude oil here," said Commissioner Jules Bailey, the sponsor of the resolution.
Public testimony from emergency responders echoed the belief that it is not a matter of if there will be an oil spill from a train, but rather when.
Commissioners unanimously passed the resolution, as representatives of the railroad questioned the resolution's teeth.
“I think it’s a symbolic gesture, I think it'll probably, you know, federal law basically prevents state, local and counties from doing these types of things," said Rob Didelius, President of the Oregon Rail Users League.
But supporters of the resolution disagree. Michael Lang, of Friends of the Columbia Gorge, says this resolution is a step in the right direction.
“The states have authority over whether to approve or deny oil by rail terminals, no oil by rail terminal, no oil trains," he said.
Shipments of crude have taken off. County commissioners say up to 12 trains carrying a million gallons or more of crude oil pass through the county every week.
And they expect that number to increase.
“Massive oil trains carrying 120 cars, three million gallons of oil on each train and all of it will go through the Columbia River Gorge by rail," Lang said.
But Didelius says transports are safe, and they have been for decades.
“Accidents are high profile but they're extremely rare and they're much, much better to the alternative which is trucking," he said.
Supporters dressed symbolically in red, and applauded the Commissioners vote.
Testimony will be sent to regulators in Washington State, who will ultimately decide the fate of the Tesoro Facility.
Multnomah County is the first, and largest county to officially oppose the facility and “oil by train” transport.
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