Oil trains

Oil trains head west on tracks through Burlington along Highway 20 en route to one of the refineries at March Point in Anacortes on Wednesday afternoon.

Colette Weeks / Skagit Valley Herald

MOUNT VERNON — Derailed trains, flammable cargo and dead fish were among the concerns mentioned Wednesday before the Skagit County Hearing Examiner who is hearing an appeal of a permit decision regarding a proposed oil-by-rail facility in Anacortes.

Those concerns are not news to county officials. They have been a subject of year-long protest for the Shell Puget Sound Refinery’s latest development proposal.

The discussion that started Wednesday is part of an appeals process.

Six environment groups banded together to contest Skagit County’s Skagit County’s State Environmental Policy Act decision for Shell’s desired rail facility. The facility would enable the Anacortes refinery to receive up to six loaded trains per week — or about one daily.

Each of those trains would roll through Skagit County’s highest-density communities, and over economically and culturally significant lands and waters, to deliver North Dakota’s Bakken Crude.

“One train a day is a big deal if that’s the train that derails and falls into the Skagit River and starts a fire in Mount Vernon,” Earthjustice Attorney Jan Hassleman said.

Earthjustice attorneys are representing the group's appeal*, which is supported by six environmental groups from around the region.

They say their request is simple: The project should be subject to a full Environmental Impact Statement review process before any permit decisions are made.

“This isn’t a terribly complicated appeal. The question at the heart of the appeal is a fundamentally legal one: Does the county need to consider (a range of risks under SEPA)?” Hassleman said. “The answer to that is yes, and the evidence will show that the county did not do so.”

He says while the county may not have the authority to set speed limits for the rail lines or ban certain equipment from being used, it does have the ability to consider those factors as part of the collective risk associated with Shell’s oil-by-rail project proposal.

The appellant’s primary concerns are safety and environmental health risks related to rail traffic carrying volitaile Bakken Crude.

Earthjustice representatives called on a handful of witnesses during Wednesday’s hearing. They included a doctor, natural resources consultant for area tribes, hazardous materials transport expert and marine biologist.

Although from a wide range of different backgrounds, the witnesses shared the position that contrary to the county’s decision, Shell’s project could have adverse impacts on the environment. They think the potential risks warrant thorough analysis under an EIS.

Shell representatives will have an opportunity to respond Friday, Hearing Examiner Wick Dufford said.

Before then, Dufford will hold a public hearing Thursday for the shoreline variance and forest practice permits Shell has applied for.

Dufford said he is anticipating a large public turnout. Verbal testimony will be limited to two minutes, and he is extending the written comment period until 4:30 p.m. Feb. 5 to accommodate anyone who may not get to speak, he said.

Written comments can be submitted at skagit.ws/PermitComment.

The permits opening for discussion are two of 17 requirements the company must meet at county, state and federal levels before it can build the proposed oil-by-rail facility in Anacortes.

— Reporter Kimberly Cauvel: 360-416-2199, kcauvel@skagitpublishing.com, Twitter: @Kimberly_SVH, Facebook.com/bykimberlycauvel

* This story clarifies Earthjustice's role in the appeal process.

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