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Residents Voice Fear And Concern On Grays Harbor Oil Terminals

HOQUIAM, Wash. -- More than 100 people gathered at the local high school Thursday night with questions and concerns about proposals to build train-to-ship oil terminals in their community.

The projects proposed for Grays Harbor are part of a regional increase in oil train traffic from North Dakota to the Pacific Northwest. And although the Bakken oil fields are more than 1,000 miles away, the boom is raising a lot of concern in this small city on Washington’s coast.

The Westway and Imperium terminals would be serviced by roughly two trains per day, each one a mile long. Their payloads of crude oil would bring more than 300 ships and barges to Grays Harbor each year year.

The third and newest project, proposed by US Development, could draw three or four trains per week and up to 60 vessels per year, each 1,000 feet long. If all three terminals are built, Grays Harbor would have storage capacity for almost 3 million barrels of oil.

“Any oil that spilled within Grays Harbor or in transit will end up on our shorelines and it will directly impact the crab fishery," said Larry Thevik, vice president of the Washington Dungeness Crab Fisherman’s Association, which opposes the projects. Thevik has been crabbing these waters for more than 40 years.

The crowd at Hoquiam High School quieted as the Washington Department of Ecology called people one by one to weigh in on what should be considered in the environmental review of the proposed oil terminals.

Fawn Sharp, president of the Quinault Tribe, was one of the first to step up to the microphone. Her tribe's reservation is about 35 miles north of Hoquiam.

“Quinault opposes oil in Grays Harbor and is in this fight to win," she told the officials. "Our fishing hunting and gathering rights are clearly jeopardized by immediate and cumulative impacts of these proposed developments.”

The crowd was dominated by opponents. No one spoke out in favor of the oil terminals during the first portion of the meeting.

Some in the audience voiced fears about the potential for Bakken oil to explode, as it did when a train derailed in Quebec last summer, killing 47 people.

Other residents called on the Washington Department of Ecology to study how the potential uptick in train and ship traffic could impact noise, human health and pollution - as well as local traffic and fire and spill response.

The public has until May 27 to submit comments on the two proposed facilities. A second public meeting is scheduled for next Tuesday from 5 to 9 p.m. at Centralia High School in Centralia, Wash.

Three of Washington’s five oil refineries are now receiving oil by rail, with 2 more oil-by-rail expansion projects recently proposed. The trains servicing the refineries travel along the Columbia River and then north through Seattle and along Puget Sound.

Oil also travels to the refinery in Clatskanie, Ore. A larger oil terminal is proposed for nearby Vancouver, Wash., which could draw up to four more trains per day, along the Columbia River.

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Larry Thevik is a crabber who spoke in opposition to building oil-shipping terminals on Grays Harbor in Washington state. Thevik is vice president of the Washington Dungeness Crab Fisherman’s Association, which opposes the projects.
Ashley Ahearn /
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Larry Thevik is a crabber who spoke in opposition to building oil-shipping terminals on Grays Harbor in Washington state. Thevik is vice president of the Washington Dungeness Crab Fisherman’s Association, which opposes the projects.

A freight train travels through Hoquiam, Wash. Trains could be arriving with oil tankers if proposed oil terminals are built on Grays Harbor.
Ashley Ahearn /
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A freight train travels through Hoquiam, Wash. Trains could be arriving with oil tankers if proposed oil terminals are built on Grays Harbor.

Westway's Grays Harbor Terminal is located in the Port of Grays Harbor, Wash. According to Westway, the port is the only Pacific Coast deep water port north of San Francisco.
Ashley Ahearn /
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Westway's Grays Harbor Terminal is located in the Port of Grays Harbor, Wash. According to Westway, the port is the only Pacific Coast deep water port north of San Francisco.

Ashley Ahearn