Cooperative Conducts Oil Spill-Response
by Erik Olson
Longview was probably the best-prepared city in the state for an oil spill Thursday morning.
Portland-based Clean Rivers Cooperative conducted a spill-response training session at the Port of Longview warehouses geared toward protecting wildlife. The cooperative is funded by 22 industries and works with the Maritime Fire and Safety Association to prevent and respond to oil spills on the Columbia and Willamette rivers.
"It's important that all our partners on the river are prepared and well-trained in the event there is an emergency," Port of Longview spokeswoman Ashley Helenberg said.
No drill was held during the training, and organizers said they wanted to practice setting up their equipment. Local participants included Cowlitz Clean Sweep and the Port of Longview, which hosted the training for the first time. Organizers said the session was helpful for responders.
Oil transport has taken a higher profile in the Pacific Northwest, largely because of the oil boom in the Bakken fields centered in North Dakota. At the end of last year, trains carrying oil began delivering oil to a repurposed ethanol plant at Port Westward near Clatskanie, and Port of Vancouver officials are considering a $100 million transport terminal.
And earlier this month, a rail car carrying oil from the Bakken region rolled down a hill and exploded in a small Quebec town, killing 50 people and increasing concerns about spills.
Regulators in Washington say they always prepare for the worst, which is why these training sessions are important. More oil trains may not necessarily mean more risk, but agencies and industries must still be ready to respond quickly, said Sonja Larson of the Department of Ecology oil spill response program.
"We're always tracking the new oil handlers. We have a very keen eye on them," Larson said at the training session.
State Department of Fish and Wildlife officials said extensive prevention planning has reduced the numbers of spills in recent years.
"We're definitely taking a look at the different avenues of oil coming here," said Andy Carlson, a member of Fish and Wildlife's oil spill team.
Inside the Port of Longview warehouse, trailers from Clean Rivers and Fish and Wildlife stood ready to help animals that might be harmed in a spill. The trailers are equipped with generators, countertops, sinks and other equipment to store and wash the birds and other critters. Workers with the International Bird Rescue are on hand at spills to help with the cleanup.
A half dozen covered tubs of water were set up outside to house and wash off the animals.
Ernie Quesada, general manager of Clean Rivers Cooperative, said the nonprofit was formed in 1971 before most industries were required to develop spill-response plans. Clean Rivers conducts wildlife training sessions every three years around the state along with other response training.
Quesada said workers can start helping animals about four hours after arriving, and the entire station can be set up within a day.
"There's a sense that you're doing something for our river system. It feels good that you're doing something proactive that people will appreciate," Quesada said.
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