Our ballots for the coming Nov. 5 election will include the names of two candidates — Chuck Caldwell, who presently has a seat on the Grays Harbor Port Commission, and Ron Figlar-Barnes, who is challenging Mr. Caldwell for his position on the commission.
Both candidates care about their community and the future of Grays Harbor, however, in regards to one major issue facing our communities, the proposal by the Port, to ship crude oil that would arrive from the Bakken Basin (which includes the North Dakota oil fields) to the Port of Grays Harbor and on to huge ocean-going ships there are fundamental differences between the two candidates.
Chuck Caldwell feels that the “benefits” of shipping the same unrefined petroleum product that destroyed a major portion of the town of Lac-Megantic, population 6,000, in Quebec could not happen here in Grays Harbor. This accident killed and injured scores of townspeople due to a train loaded with crude derailing in the center of town. However, Caldwell believes the benefits derived from transporting crude outweigh the risks.
Candidate Ron Figlar-Barnes, on the other hand, feels that we should not be playing Russian Roulette with our communities along the train route, our marine sanctuaries, sport and commercial fishing, shellfish and tourism industries — not to mention over 100 large and small streams and bridges that would be subjected to very heavy loads of crude along the route to Hoquiam.
Even the industry, itself, admits that shipping by rail has three times the spills as via pipeline. To think that there will never be a tragic accident along the rail route is wishful thinking.
An additional estimated 25 trains per week would be added to the present rail traffic that occasionally delay traffic headed into Elma from areas north of the tracks which includes Strawberry Hill. This proposed addition to the present rail traffic would not spell good news for emergency vehicles when faced with one and a half mile long trains loaded with crude, traveling at 10 mph through Elma.
I vividly recall seeing a portion of the ecological damage caused by the Exxon Valdez oil spill that occurred at Prince William Sound on March 24, 1989. In 1991, my wife and I were living at Windy Bay Alaska, located not far from “lands end” at the southern tip of the Kenai Peninsula. Underneath every rock that I picked up along the beach,was a black sticky gunk — the same type of gunk that covered 1,300 miles of Alaskan coastline, and 1,100 square miles of ocean. Twenty years after the spill, thousands of gallons of crude still remained in the sandy soil along the Alaskan coastline.
Some of the ships that would be carrying crude from our port, would be carrying 200 times the amount of crude that the Exxon Valdez was carrying.
When I think of how fortunate we are to live in an area where our natural treasures are so unique as to attract thousands of visitors every year, providing a sustainable flow of income to local economies, it was an easy decision for me to make, in determining which candidate for Port Commission will receive my vote.
If the Port of Grays Harbor becomes a major shipping point for crude oil, just the sheer volume of crude proposed, guarantees at some point a disaster will occur either by human error or equipment failure or earthquake.
Because the Port is desperately in need of a new voice that will take into consideration all the ramifications and citizen concerns connected with this crude proposal by the Port of Grays Harbor, my vote will be reserved for Ron Figlar-Barnes.