Crowd protests oil trains, BP operations at Cherry Point

Spurred by a derailment in Seattle, people turn out for a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers meeting.
About 40 people rallied to protest oil shipments Thursday evening before a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers hearing.

About 40 people rallied to protest oil shipments Thursday evening before a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers hearing. John Stang

The fate of a Cherry Point oil-loading dock. Distrust of BP. A minor oil-car derailment in Seattle. All of these surfaced Thursday at a hearing in Seattle.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers held the public hearing to discuss a draft environmental impact study of a dock for oil ships built in 2001, a project that did not go through such an analysis at that time.

Increased train traffic — coupled with fears about a spurt of oil train fires — has helped to spark public concerns about coal and oil going through Washington by rail.

On Thursday evening, 35 people testified at a federal facility in south Seattle against expanding use of the North Wing dock at BP's Cherry Point facility, which is receiving and refining Bakken oil from North Dakota. The North Wing dock was built in 2001 to join the older South Wing dock in order for BP to ship greater volumes of oil. The lack of an environmental impact study in 2001 led to years of litigation, eventually forcing the Corps to examine how well the North Wing dock built in 2001 should handle the volumes of oil and number of tankers facing it in 2014.

The Corps could ultimately decide to limit the volume of oil and numbers of tankers using the facility. But it could allow BP to expand its dock traffic. The environmental study's recommendations are expected to be unveiled near the end of the year.

No one in Thursday's crowd of 80 people spoke in favor of expanding the North Wing dock's operations.

Instead, the crowd worried about oil spills, threats to orcas, an increase in train traffic plus increased risk of derailments and fires. Accenting that fear was Thursday morning's derailment of five railroad cars beneath the Magnolia Bridge. Three of those cars held Bakken oil. No one was injured, and no fire erupted. The 102-car train was going 5 mph.

Thursday's crowd also did not trust BP. "BP is responsible for the biggest oil spill in history in the Gulf of Mexico. We don't need any more tanker traffic in our sacred waters," said Howard Harrison of Redmond. Ellen Lockert of Bainbridge Island added: "As a company, BP has a long record of sloppy safety practices."

"That dock was illegal 10 years ago. It's illegal today," said Ahmed Gaya.

Pete Beaupain of Auburn said: "There will be derailments. Most won't happen at 5 mph like the one today did."

John Stang is a longtime Inland Northwest newspaper reporter who earned a Masters of Communications in Digital Media degree at the University of Washington. He can be reached by writing editor@crosscut.com.


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