Photo courtesy of Bob Sallinger
  • Photo courtesy of Bob Sallinger

Port of Portland Commission Executive Director Bill Wyatt opened today's regular commission meeting by telling the audience—which was largely made up of activists sporting "NO TERMINAL" signs—how disappointed he is that Mayor Charlie Hales pulled the plug on a $500 million propane terminal project in North Portland.

"I think it's a good climate story," Wyatt said. "It's a story that would create jobs here; it would create wealth here."

Hales last week flip-flopped on his support for the Canada-based Pembina Pipeline Corporation's proposed propane storage and export facility, which he welcomed when the project was announced last September. Hales said he changed his mind in the face of widespread community opposition.

Pembina wants to deliver propane to the port's Terminal 6 by freight train, store it in 33 million gallon tanks, then pipe it onto ships in the Columbia River for transport to China. The company touts their propane as a "transition fuel" in China, used as a cleaner-burning substitute for coal.

Wyatt isn't pleased that his port won't be getting the millions in tax revenue from Pembina. He brought a slide show to illustrate to commissioners how bad the smog problem in Beijing is and said Portland would be helping China go green by shipping them propane.

"There is a lot of science around the use of propane suggesting it can be a really good transition fuel," he says. "It will help create cleaner air and a healthy environment."

Wyatt blamed Hales for Pembina's decision to pump boatloads of cash into preparations for the project they apparently thought was a sure thing. For Portland Rising Tide, the Climate Action Coalition, and other anti-fossil fuel folks, who had begun hanging "Fossil Fuel Charlie" signs around town, Hales' about-face was a victory for "green" Portland.

Portland City Council was scheduled to vote on June 10 on a zoning change that would have allowed the project to proceed, but Hales cancelled the vote. That didn't stop Pembina—which issued a statement saying they intend to continue pursuing Portland—or Wyatt, who chose to speak this morning even though the item wasn't on the agenda.

"I appreciate the fact that not everybody agrees with this, but it's something we gave much thought to," Wyatt said.

Dozens of protesters showed up to testify against the Pembina project this morning, choosing to do so during discussion around the Port of Portland's proposed Risk Management Plan.

Those waiting to testify were warned by port commission President Jim Carter to stay on the risk management topic, not repeat what others already testified, and respect the time limits lest he have to "politely interrupt" them. The nearly two dozen people waiting to testify identified a lot of potential risks to tying Portland to exporting fossil fuels: climate change, train derailment, propane explosions, earthquakes, acts of terror, fracking, decreased property values, increased insurance, and water use, to name a few.

"When I was delivering babies, it was all about risk management," says Kelly O'Hanley, a retired Portland obstetrician/gynecologist. "A propane terminal is only a good risk for those who are in denial. You must do better than this."

Vancouver resident Don Steinke spoke about recent derailments, asking the commission if Pembina has given them all the facts about safety.

"Did they tell you the (train car) tanks are not puncture-resistant above 12 miles per hour?" he asked. "Did they tell you they only have two people manning those one-and-a-half-mile trains?"

Steinke said the Port of Longview in Washington recently rejected a similar proposal to locate a propane facility at their port. Bob Sallinger, Conservation Director for the Audubon Society of Portland, reminded the commission that when Pembina started the project, COO Mick Dilger said the company would only proceed if Portland wanted it.

"He's heard from the people of Portland, as has the mayor," Sallinger says. "They overwhelmingly oppose this facility."

Listen to the rest of Salliner's testimony in the video below.