City Council OKs resolutions asking for ban on oil, coal trains through Edmonds

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After listening to more than an hour of public testimony about the health, safety and environmental risks of oil and coal trains traveling along the waterfront, the Edmonds City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to approve resolutions urging federal officials to ban transporting crude oil and coal by rail through Edmonds.

The votes were taken in front of dozens of red-shirted demonstrators who had earlier marched from the waterfront up Main Street for a rally outside the Council Chambers. Speaking to the crowd, Edmonds City Councilmember Adrienne Fraley-Monillas — who had led the effort to get the resolutions on the council agenda — said her hope was that cities neighboring Edmonds would also pass the same resolutions. “And we’ll just keep going up and down Puget Sound, getting one city after another to say ‘No. We’ve had enough.'”

The Raging Grannies even sang a song, as did 15-year-old Seattle high school student Ali Piper.

Also speaking was Brian Schleicher, a firefighter/paramedic based out of downtown Edmonds Fire Station 17 for 13 years, who noted he would be a first responder if any oil or coal train mishaps were to occur. “We as the professional firefighters of Snohomish County have some real concerns with running eight oil trains per day at 30,000 gallons per tanker through our little city,” said Schleicher, speaking on behalf of Firefighters Local 1828. “Especially when they haven’t upgraded them all to the newer safety standards, they aren’t currently held to what we would consider to be a significant speed limit and it creates a real problem.

“Response is a weak effort when one of these things comes off the tracks,” he continued. “We can plan, we can drill, we can prepare all that we want, and if something like this happens we are going to do the very best we can to limit damage but that damage occurs in the first few minutes. Lives are lost, businesses are destroyed, the environment is damaged and countless other horrible things occur.”

Many of those participating in the rally also offered testimony during the council meeting, including more than a dozen Edmonds residents plus some coming from Shoreline, Seattle and Everett.

State Sen. Maralyn Chase of Edmonds noted that she serves as co-chair of the rail caucus in the state Legislature, where she works with BNSF railroad representatives frequently. “And they make it very clear that they don’t really have a choice in the freight that they have to carry,” Chase said. “That is why what you are considering here tonight is so very important. We need to support the national people who are working on this issue to see if we can get some control over these trains going through our community.”

City officials recognize they have no control over the railroad operations, so both the oil and coal train resolutions urge the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Energy Secretary and the Congress to prohibit the transportation of coal and oil via rail “through the City of Edmonds and all other populated areas.”

Edmonds resident Barbara Tipton noted that if an oil train explosion occurs, first responders will have no choice but to cordon off the affected area and wait for the hazardous materials to burn out. The U.S. Department of Transportation assigns a one-half-mile evacuation zone for oil trail derailments and a one-mile impact zone for an oil train fire, Tipton said, which would leave Edmonds’ downtown core “up in flames. The shops, the restaurants, houses, condominiums, the Edmonds Center for the Arts, the Senior Center and the ferry dock. Don’t let this happen.”

Monda Van Hollebeke, who has lived in Edmonds for 39 years and is a mother of six, grandmother of seven and great grandmother of two, told the council she believes it is her duty “to do whatever I can — and I urge you to do whatever you can — so that their future can be safe and healthy.”

After a few minor amendments, the council unanimously passed the oil train resolution then quickly moved on to approve the coal train resolution. Councilmember Mike Nelson noted that while the council has approved resolutions in past years opposing coal and oil trains, “we have not actually said, ‘We don’t want these things running through our city. That’s what this resolution says. We don’t want these trains coming through our town. We don’t want them to come into Washington state. We don’t want them period.”

Due to the number of speakers during the public comment period, the council chose to defer several agenda items to a future meeting. Among them: proposed changes to the city’s sign code, including those governing sandwich-board signs downtown; a quarterly update from the Edmonds Planning Board and an ordinance to add no parking signs on the south side of 238th Street Southwest, from 100th to 104th Avenue West.

But the council was able to get to the following agenda items:

– Heard a presentation by the Snohomish Conservation District and Edmonds Community College on how rain gardens could help reduced stream flows and improve fish habitat in Perrinville Creek. Dr. Tom Murphy, a professor from Edmonds Community College and his students presented results from surveys of Perrinville watershed residents regarding whether they would be open to installing rain gardens as part of a municipal rain garden program. More than 90 percent of those surveyed expressed enthusiasm for the concept. Public Works Director Phil Williams noted that rain gardens will play an increasingly important role as the city adopts new storm water regulations that aim to reduce runoff. You can read more about a recent Snohomish Conservation District rain garden project  here.

– Forwarded to next week’s consent agenda a deferral process — required by state law — for impact fees assessed to new single-family detached and attached residential construction. Fee payments will now be assessed following the building’s final inspection and an administrative fee of $50 will also be added.

– Discussed the scope of issues to be addressed in the request for proposals that will be issued for a consultant to oversee development of an Urban Forestry Management Plan.

— By Teresa Wippel

6 COMMENTS

  1. Many thank you’s to the city council members that have been putting so much time and work in on the issue of oil and coal trains passing through Edmonds on a daily basis.
    It was eye opening for me to read that an oil explosion would not only impact the site of the explosion but a very large area of the downtown business and homes/condos.
    Thank you as well to State Senator Chase for the work she does in representing us on this issue.
    Thank you as well to Brian Schleicher, our firefighter/para medic who describes a very clear picture of what and what can’t be done should a catastrophic accident occur here.As a front line responder he gave us a very clear picture of what he and his colleagues would be facing.
    I am so thankful to the many people that have been defending their stand against the train passage of hazardous materials in our beautiful community, they have been fighting to keep it that way. I feel so lucky to live here and amongst people who uphold the health and welfare of Edmonds now and for the future.
    Thank you all!
    Ingrid Wolsk

  2. As the issue of banning certain types of cargo moves along a very slow process there are things that could reduce the risk of a derailment and fire. Track inspection would reduce the possibility of derailment. At what speed does a derailment cause cars to collide in a way to puncture the cars? My guess is the tracks are inspected regularly but little is published about how frequently or if that would help prevent derailment. Who sets the speed limit? Can we create better safety by slowing down trains? If we want to be safer, track inspection and speed play a major role in making us safer while the “banning ideas” work their way through what will likely be a very long process.

  3. Thanks Neil, This link talks about ways to keep the tank cars whole when they derail. Currently the new and improved standards are not slated to take effect of several years. While it would be nice to think people will act quickly I hold little hope that these new standards will be put into effect in a timely way.

    So I go back to my point about preventing derailments and if one does occur minimize the risk of puncture with the existing tank cars. Track failure was the cause of the Oregon derailment. The report I read said some bolts were not up to current standards, broken for a long time or simply missing. When we had a slow speed derailment near Magnolia the interaction between cars did not occur. They simply left the tracks but did not collide. That train was traveling at a slow speed. Bottom line is the slower the train the more likely the cars will not puncture in a derailment.

    So while it would be nice to have safer cars, we can and should work on ways to make it safer with existing cars. More complete and frequent rail inspections and slower speeds would greatly reduce the current risks while we change to safer cars.

  4. Congratulations City of Edmonds! When we fight, we win. Complacency and indifference will get us nowhere. There have been a number of successes against the coal and oil industry recently and there will be more to come. If only “Mr. Green” Jay Inslee would get on board public sentiment. His election is coming up so that’s something to consider if he doesn’t start taking coal and oil shipments through our communities more seriously.

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