Judge allows Swinomish lawsuit over oil trains to proceed

By Shannen Kuest, Skagit Valley Herald, goskagit.com

 

A federal judge ruled Friday that a lawsuit filed by the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community against BNSF Railway over oil train shipments may continue in federal court.

U.S. District Judge Robert Lasnik denied a motion by BNSF to refer key questions to the Surface Transportation Board, a three-member board in Washington, D.C., that oversees railroad operations, according to a news release.

The Swinomish tribe sued BNSF in April for violating the terms of an easement agreement allowing trains to cross its reservation in Skagit County.

The lawsuit concerns train tracks laid along the northern edge of the reservation in the 1800s without consent from the tribe or federal government. The tracks serve two Anacortes oil refineries, and in 1976 the tribe filed a lawsuit for nearly a century of trespass.

In 1991, the tribe and BNSF signed an agreement settling that lawsuit and granting BNSF an easement with several conditions: BNSF would regularly update the tribe on the type of cargo, and only one train of no more than 25 railcars would cross the reservation in each direction daily. In exchange, the tribe agreed not to “arbitrarily withhold permission” from future BNSF requests to increase the number of trains or cars.

The tribe learned from media reports in late 2012 that “unit trains” of 100 railcars or more were beginning to cross the reservation. Today, BNSF is reportedly running six 100-car unit trains per week across the reservation, more than four times as many railcars daily as permitted by the easement, according to the release.

Each of these trains carry between 2.8 million and 3.4 million gallons of Bakken crude, a particularly explosive cargo that has drawn the attention of lawmakers and federal regulators.

The tribe never granted permission to increase the number of railcars and repeatedly demanded that BNSF stop violating the easement. So far, BNSF has refused.

BNSF argued it has a responsibility to provide service, even for hazardous commodities, and that the easement doesn’t give the tribe power to “dictate the commodities that BNSF can handle over the line,” according to the release.

Tribal attorneys argued that the tribe does not want to regulate BNSF operations, but wants BNSF to live up to its contractual obligations.

Lasnik agreed, writing in a six-page ruling that, “In the context of this case, referral to the (transportation board) is neither efficient nor necessary.”

The lawsuit seeks a permanent injunction prohibiting BNSF from running more than one train of 25 cars in each direction and shipping crude oil from the Bakken region across the reservation. The tribe also seeks judgments against BNSF for trespass and breach of contract.

Puget Sound Tribe’s Lawsuit Aims To Keep Oil Trains Off Its Reservation

File photo of EPA Region 10 Administrator Dennis McLerran (left) meeting with Swinomish Tribal Council Chairman Brian Cladoosby at the Swinomish Reservation. Cladoosby's tribe has filed a lawsuit to stop oil trains from traveling on its reservation.Ashley Ahearn

File photo of EPA Region 10 Administrator Dennis McLerran (left) meeting with Swinomish Tribal Council Chairman Brian Cladoosby at the Swinomish Reservation. Cladoosby’s tribe has filed a lawsuit to stop oil trains from traveling on its reservation.
Ashley Ahearn

 

By Ashley Ahearn, KUOW

 

The Swinomish Tribe has filed a lawsuit against BNSF Railway to stop oil trains from traveling through its reservation.

BNSF train tracks cross the top of the Swinomish Reservation in Skagit County. In recent years they’ve been used to move oil from North Dakota to two refineries in Anacortes.

In 1990 BNSF and the Swinomish reached a settlement that required BNSF to regularly update the tribe on the type of cargo moving through the reservation. It also limited traffic to two 25-car trains per day.

Now, the tribe says BNSF is running several times that many train cars through the reservation each day (an estimated six oil trains of more than 100 cars per week).

The Swinomish Tribe says BNSF does not have permission for the increased oil train traffic and that the company is putting the tribe’s way of life at risk.

“We told BNSF to stop, again and again,” said Swinomish Chairman Brian Cladoosby. “Our signatures were on the agreement with BNSF, so were theirs, and so was the United States. But despite all that, BNSF began running its Bakken oil trains across the Reservation without asking, and without even telling us.”

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle. It seeks to stop BNSF Railway from moving oil through the reservation.

BNSF spokesperson Courtney Wallace says the company has received the complaint and is reviewing it.

Woman struck, killed by freight train in Washington

By The Associated Press

MARYSVILLE, Wash. — Authorities say a woman was struck and killed by a northbound freight train Tuesday night in Marysville, Washington.

Marysville police Cmdr. Robb Lamoureux says a preliminary investigation indicates the death was likely a suicide. The woman’s age and identity were not immediately determined.

BNSF Railway spokesman Gus Melonas says the fatality happened about 9:30 p.m. when a BNSF train hit the woman on the tracks. He says the area was not a rail crossing.

Police said the train remained stopped in the area for several hours during the investigation.

Marysville is north of Everett.

City of Everett to hold public meetings on increased rail traffic

Jump in volume of potentially hazardous materials being transported through our area cause for concern

By Andrew Gobin,

Increased rail traffic carries many issues with it. For local residents, the trains that pass through the Marysville Tulalip area cut the region in half, blocking Marysville residents’ east of the railway access to Interstate 5, creating major traffic jams which extend onto the freeway ramps west of the railway. With the major rail incidents of North Dakota and Quebec of last year, the fear of similar catastrophic events is high.

Rail transports traveling through the area carry coal, crude, and hazmat cargo, as they have for years. With the increase in rail traffic, the traffic issues will be magnified exponentially, and the risk of accidents skyrockets. With the proposed oil terminals in Grays Harbor and Vancouver Washington, and the proposed coal terminal at Cherry Point, rail traffic could increase to more than 30 trains a day from the 18 running currently.

Officials from Everett Fire Department and Everett Emergency Management will be presenting to the public on July 22 on the procedures of responding to incidents, as well as answering safety concerns. Public participation is encouraged as future strategies are being developed.

The meeting on July 22 will be held at the Everett Public Library, 2702 Hoyt Ave, in the Activity Room from 6:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. For more information contact Steven Liedlich at (425) 876-1633.

Communities not prepared for risks of crude oil train derailments, Congress told

 

Seattle's emergency management director testified in the Senate Wednesday that three crude oil trains a week are passing through downtown Seattle, seen here Oct. 22, 2013, but that frequency could increase to three a day once refineries in Washington state are ready to receive them. TISH WELLS — MCT

Seattle’s emergency management director testified in the Senate Wednesday that three crude oil trains a week are passing through downtown Seattle, seen here Oct. 22, 2013, but that frequency could increase to three a day once refineries in Washington state are ready to receive them. TISH WELLS — MCT

By CURTIS TATE

MCCLATCHY WASHINGON BUREAU April 9, 2014

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Emergency response officials told a Senate subcommittee Wednesday, April 9, that big cities and small towns alike are unprepared for a disaster on the scale of an oil train derailment and fire last year in Quebec that destroyed part of a town and killed 47 people.

The hearing was only the second on Capitol Hill in recent weeks that sought the perspective of local officials. The federal government has regulatory authority over rail shipments, but the burden of emergency response ultimately falls on local agencies.

The specter of a large-scale crude oil fire and spill has hung over communities across the country since July’s crash in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, where firefighters were simply outmatched by the scale and ferocity of the blaze.

“We can handle everyday emergencies,” said Timothy Pellerin, the fire chief of Rangeley, Maine, whose department assisted in the Quebec derailment. “We’re not prepared for a major disaster like this.”

Urban fire departments may have more resources and personnel, but the scale of the threat is a challenge for them, too.

Barb Graff, director of the Seattle Office of Emergency Management, said three loaded crude oil trains a week pass through the city, but that the frequency could increase to three per day when refineries are able to receive them.

“There’s an imbalance when we increase the hazard but we don’t increase the ability of the local community to deal with that hazard,” Graff testified.

The hearing in the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and Related Agencies, was led by Sens. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Susan Collins, R-Maine. Crude oil shipments not only cross both states in trains, they also cross the border into Canada on North America’s virtually seamless rail network.

In Western Washington, BNSF trains have been hauling crude to the BP Cherry Point refinery on the main line through Bellingham and Ferndale since December 2013. The smaller Phillips 66 refinery to the south expects to begin receiving oil shipments by the end of 2014.

The Tesoro refinery in Anacortes has been getting crude oil by rail since September 2012, and the Anacortes Shell refinery is planning a crude oil rail terminal as well.

Murray said the shipments in Washington state are expected to triple to 55 million barrels this year, and that’s “only the tip of the iceberg.”

CROSS-BORDER PROBLEMS

Pellerin’s department was one of seven in Maine to assist in Lac-Megantic. He testified that crossing the border into Canada, he could see the plumes of smoke 30 miles away.

They were confronted by multiple problems on arrival. He testified that his radios were not compatible with Canadian frequencies, nor were fire hose couplings in sync. And the Maine firefighters needed an interpreter because their Quebec colleagues spoke only French.

Pellerin said 8,000 gallons of firefighting foam had to be trucked in from a refinery in Toronto, which took several hours.

Neither the railroad nor the oil companies involved in the derailment had a disaster plan, he said. He also said he learned only two weeks ago that the crude oil in the tank cars had been improperly identified.

Pellerin said three railroad representatives arrived in Lac-Megantic on the day of the derailment, took some pictures and left. The company filed for bankruptcy and was sold in December.

“They need to be held responsible for it,” he testified.

PRESSURE ON BNSF

Graff said regional emergency managers met with representatives of BNSF Railway recently to discuss the impact of crude oil shipments in Washington state. BNSF, based in Fort Worth, Texas, is the nation’s largest hauler of crude oil in trains and operates routes through Washington state’s major population centers.

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray signed a resolution last month that presses railroads to disclose the volume, frequency and contents of shipments. Railroads are not currently required to do so.

The resolution also calls for an “aggressive” phase-out of older model tank cars known as DOT-111s, which were known to be vulnerable to punctures and ruptures in derailments well before they were pressed into service hauling crude oil and ethanol.

When asked when his department would finish new regulations for tank cars, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx told the panel, “We are not going to wait until 2015,” but wouldn’t commit to a specific date. The pace of the rulemaking has frustrated lawmakers on Capitol Hill, as well as state and local officials.

Ed Murray said lawmakers would continue to press the department to move swiftly.

“We certainly are not dropping this topic,” he said. “This is an issue that has to be addressed.”