Are County and City Ignoring Risk, Failing to Plan For Oil Train Disaster?
The county council is meeting this Tuesday and here is the agenda. There are a number of interesting items on the agenda, including modification to the proposal for an incarceration reduction task force.
However, there are two matters that I would like to focus on, the first being the updated Whatcom County Multi-jurisdictional Natural Hazards Mitigation Plan. This plan identifies natural hazards and potential mitigation strategies within Whatcom County. Adoption of the plan by the Whatcom County Flood Control Zone District is required in order for the District to be eligible to receive Hazard Mitigation Grant Program funding after presidentially-declared disasters.
Each city prepares its own plan which it submits to the county for review and incorporation. The county first prepared a multi-jurisdictional plan in 2004 and updated it in 2011. I learned from the 2011 plan that hazardous waste spills during transportation, whether by rail, ship or road, were by far the largest safety issue in our county. ..and this was before railroads were a hot political issue.
The county was required to update the plan each year, with a major revision in 2015, and this did not happen. It is revising the flood provisions to avoid new penalties under updated FEMA provisions. I have tried to review the proposed mitigation plan, but the current agenda bill does not contain a link. A typed out link was provided by the Sheriff to retype on your computer, but I had no success in getting this to work. This is really inexcusable for an agenda item.
The link for the 2011 plan, the last one I could locate, is the third and last “click here” on this page. http://www.whatcomready.org/preparedness/whatcom-natural-hazards-mitigation-plan-update/
I was interested in reviewing the updated proposal because I think there is new and important information that needs to be considered and planned for with regard to downtown Bellingham and the oil trains. The downtown, including the railroad tracks, are built on or near fill, and rated for high risk seismic activity. And the mitigation plan rates downtown Bellingham as one of the highest fire risks in the county.
The oil trains pass by frequently, even if they are only part of an assorted cargo train. The likelihood of a earthquake while a train is in downtown Bellingham is not remote. Fire would cause oil trains to explode. There could also be a tsunami. Therefore, the rating for the hazard risk of a hazardous material spill is underrated with regard to property damage and impacts to essential facilities. (See chart on page 223 of 286.)
After reviewing the blast zone chart for oil trains and seeing how it hugs the entire coast line and then takes up so much inland space in Ferndale, it is clear that the potential for major loss of life and property is not being properly analyzed. This could also have significant impacts for the comp. plan update, because it raises the question, that no one has yet asked, as to why the cities and county, particularly Bellingham, with its waterfront redevelopment, is putting people and property in harms way, when the opportunity exists to avoid this danger.
Like everything else in local politics, this issue will only be raised and, hopefully reviewed, if the public raises it. I suggest that we all send a letter to the county council asking that they look into this issue further.
You can email the Whatcom County Council at this address: firstname.lastname@example.org