MOUNT VERNON — Those critical of a proposed oil train facility at Shell Puget Sound Refinery dominated the discussion Tuesday at a public comment meeting regarding the project.
The expansion would give Shell the ability to handle crude oil trains, and would increase the number of trains traveling through the state.
County government and the state Department of Ecology are putting together an environmental impact statement on Shell's project, and will use public comment to help determine the scope of the EIS.
Of the 75 people who were at the meeting at the time, all but a few raised their hands when a speaker asked the who opposed the project. Ecology said 160 people signed in at the event.
Many of the commenters were concerned with safety, given the frequency of oil train derailments and explosions in recent years.
Several residents who live within a half-mile of railroad tracks, which was referred to as living in "the blast zone," spoke of their fears of being caught in an explosion.
"Some things you just say no to," Dana Lyons, a folk singer from Bellingham, said at a rally held before the start of the meeting. "Endangering our homes, our schools ... That's just not acceptable."
The rally, which was organized by Stand Up to Oil, included speakers critical of Shell's proposal.
Kerry McHugh, spokesperson for the group, said the rally was organized to remind government that the project impacts a far larger part of the state than just Skagit County.
Trains would travel through Spokane, Seattle and many smaller communities on their way to the Shell refinery, McHugh said, creating significant health and safety problems throughout the state.
"I feel like we've had to fight at every step of the process for the dangers to be taken seriously," she said.
Commenters brought up environmental safety, traffic, bridge stability and other health concerns to representatives from county government and Ecology.
Frank James, a doctor from Bellingham, said he treated one of the victims of the 1999 Olympic Pipeline gasoline explosion in Whatcom Falls Park. The victim had burns on 90 percent of his body.
"I hope no one ever has to go through that ever again," he said.
He advocated for a formal health study as part of the EIS, including an analysis of the impact of noise and train exhaust on residents.
Darryl Williams, environmental liaison for the Tulalip Tribes, was concerned with the environmental impacts of an oil spill in the water around the refinery.
"We need to cut back on oil traffic that can hurt (wildlife)," he said.