Public: Pipeline Safety's A Priority -- Gov. Locke's Task Force Seeks Ways To Improve Regulation, Prevention
Seattle Times Eastside Bureau
Young Seattle environmentalists with piercings, neat middle-aged Bellevue engineers and a soft-spoken computer technician from Bellingham all made the same plea last night:
Do something to prevent another pipeline disaster like the one that killed three people in Bellingham.
They were among 40 people who addressed Gov. Gary Locke's pipeline-safety task force at Bellevue City Hall in its first forum since Olympic Pipe Line spilled 277,000 gallons of gasoline in Whatcom Falls Park on June 10. The three died when the spill was ignited.
Even Olympic offered to help the task force improve the state's regulations and fuel-spill prevention plans.
After forums next Thursday in Moses Lake and Sept. 22 in Vancouver, Wash., the task force will recommend to Locke ways to better regulate the state's 23,000 miles of pipeline.
Suggestions last night included stricter inspections of pipelines, better training of pipeline operators and a better system for contractors to check for pipelines before digging nearby.
Some suggested Locke work with adjacent states on a regional plan for handling future fuel needs.
Also in force were opponents of Olympic's now-suspended proposal to extend the pipeline across the Cascades. They asked for a better pipeline-siting process, and for laws requiring pipeline companies to demonstrate a public need for new routes they seek.
Locke wasn't at the meeting, but aide Carol Jolly, the task-force coordinator, said he was motivated after visiting the Bellingham victims' families.
It's too soon to say what the changes could be, however, Jolly and others on the task force said.
"We have to get all that input before we're ready to say where we'll go with this," said State Fire Marshal Mary Corso.
More regulation was the solution apparent to many last night, such as Renton businessman Chris Clifford, whose drinking water was tainted by an earlier Olympic spill.
"We have to step in and regulate, and regulate - yes - with the cooperation of the industry, but not with the industry calling the shots," he said.
Ellie Buchen of Seattle, who described herself as an environmentalist, said the state needs to take an active role inspecting pipelines.
"I'm obviously upset about the deaths of the three children in Bellingham," she said, "but what really sickens me is this could have been prevented."
Theodore Wright, a Bellevue engineer, said that the current program for monitoring pipelines "is completely inadequate and needs upgrading and updating," and that the controller training rules aren't working.
"If those standards are in existence, apparently no one is paying any attention," he said.
Olympic representative Deanne Kopkas said the company would like a better system for monitoring digging near pipelines, better land-use regulations around pipelines and more regional coordination on emergency preparation.
Two speakers were from the Bellingham area, including Lynden businessman Andrew Bright. Speaking for the chamber of commerce, he said pipelines should be regulated federally, have input into regulations and get more recognition for their economic importance.
The other was computer technician David Donohue, who saw the June 10 explosion's mushroom cloud.
"Why is the Olympic Pipe Line Company still in business? There is no reason why they should (after) an action so negligent that they destroyed a good part of our city and killed three," he said. "Someone else who can do it safely should be doing it."
Brier Dudley's phone number is 206-515-5687. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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