Nov. 30–Confronted by safety concerns, Port of St. Helens commissioners Wednesday postponed a decision on a proposal to expand the type and amount of crude oil that can be shipped to Port Westward.
A potential $75 million investment and increase of 40 jobs may be riding on whatever decision the commissioners make.
New England-based Global Partners is asking the port for an amendment to its lease at Port Westward to eliminate restrictions on the type of shipments it can bring in from the Columbia Bio-Rrefinery north of Clatskanie. It also wants to expand the length of the trains by 50 percent — to 1.5 miles.
The trains pass through the heart of downtown Rainier and several other southern Columbia County communities en route to Port Westward.
“Safety is my number-one concern,” Rainier Mayor Jerry Cole said Thursday. “It is very limited where this kind of train traffic goes right through your downtown streets. No matter what decisions the port makes … the safety of this rail corridor through Rainier is my number-one priority.”
The proposal led to a packed port commission meeting Wednesday, at which the mayors of Scappoose and St. Helens raised concerns about expanding the lengths of trains and cutting off parts of their communities from emergency services.
“(The decision) was postponed because one commissioner asked if we can sit down and talk with city council members and first responders in the towns along the rails to address additional concerns,” the port’s Executive Director, Doug Hayes, said Thursday
Commissioners’ next chance to vote will be their Dec. 12 meeting.
Port commissioners did, however, agree to bar shipments of oil and other products that are heavier than water, which would make them sink if they ever spilled into the Columbia River or another water body.
“It is hard to clean that type of commodity when it sinks into water,” Hayes said. “It is hard to contain it, and it is hard to clean it.”
That decision, Cole said, is a good one: “I would be cautious about allowing those kinds of levels to be permitted because of sinking.”
Global Partners says removing restrictions on oil shipments would cause it to invest $75 million investment at its Port Westward property, a project the company says would create 140 construction jobs and 40 full-time jobs. The project would involve refurbishing storage tanks and pipes Global now uses for ethanol to make them more compatible for shipping crude oil. (The plant was built to manufacture ethanol but went bankrupt shortly after it opened.)
The site has 12 million barrels of storage capacity and can move 382,000 barrels of products daily, according to Global’s proposal.
Global purchased the site in 2013, when the terminal was already shipping crude oil. The company started tapering off crude oil shipments due to low prices in 2014, switching exclusively to ethanol in 2016.
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