Crowd grills Haven Energy president over propane dock plans

Marissa Luck, February 20, 2015, The Daily News

About 250 people packed the Cowlitz County Expo Center on Thursday night to voice their opinions on a $300 million propane export terminal at the Port of Longview. The majority raised concerns and questions about effects the Haven Energy terminal would have on safety and the environment.


“The propane has no smell, a person cannot see it,” Susan Lee Schwartz of Longview said. “It is highly flammable. Will people be able to start a fire or barbecue while the propane is being reloaded? What happens if there is an explosion with the propane? Will the first responders be trained?”


During the three-and-half-hour meeting, Greg Bowles, president of Haven Energy, touched on the effects Haven would have on the environment and economy. But the bulk of his presentation was dedicated to outlining safety features of his project.


“It’s a far more expensive design standard but it’s far more safe,” he said. “This decision (to use a full containment tank) has cost us $40 million that we voluntarily chose to do.”


The crowd grilled Bowles for over 45 minutes, asking questions about the speed of the propane rail cars, security of the pipeline to carry it to the ship and how big the security zones would have to be around the vessels, among other things.


Bowles said he couldn’t answer several of those questions because the permitting and environmental impact studies haven’t been completed. Many cannot even start until he secures a lease from the port.


That answer failed to satisfy several in the crowd, however, who jeered and accused him of dodging questions.


Bill Kasch, 80, of Longview asked how well the storage tanks would be protected from terrorist attacks.


“I think we’re very well aware of ISIS and what’s happening the Middle East … . Aren’t we becoming a blinking red light for anyone in America?”


Several people applauded.


Bowles said the storage tanks were developed in conflict zones in the Middle East, and several similar tanks exist to store liquid natural gas throughout the United States.


That was followed by more questions and a comment period that lasted more than an hour. Although Haven says that propane is safer than liquid natural gas, several commentators disagreed.


One woman from Kelso said that she’s read a propane explosion would radiate one-and-half miles, “thus impacting KapStone and Weyerhaeuser.”


Rob Harris, vice president of JH Kelly — a potential contractor for the project — defended Bowles.


“It’s frustrating to sit here and not hear the technical answers you want today,” he said, adding that the detailed environmental reviews will be conducted during the permitting phase. “These are state and federal employees that are going to vet this project.”


Diane Dick of Longview told the Port of Longview commissioners, “You are making the decision for the parents of children in Rainier Elementary School, St. Helens Elementary, St. Rose, Kessler, Wallace, Carrolls the Kalama schools, the Woodland school, Ridgefield schools, Vancouver and beyond. These schools are all well within the mile-and-a-half blast zone of the tracks and would need to evacuate if only two propane tanks car passing by were to derail.”


Local 21 of International Longshoremen and Warehouse Union showed up in force to voice their opposition to the project. Members raised questions about safety, rail congestion and how it would affect port operations.


“It’s going to impact what we can store and what we have on this facility,” said Mike Wilcox of Kelso, vice president of Local 21. “The proposed pipeline will effectively cut the port in half … . There’s a lot of unanswered questions.”


Those who did express support of the project said Haven has invested enough into safety, and that the community could use the boost to jobs and tax revenue.


“Within the last five years, I’ve worked two minimum wage jobs because there’s no jobs in our community,” said Stephanie Owens, 38, a single-mom from Longview. “One thing I always hear is ‘We can do better’ and that’s everybody’s biggest argument … If we can do better, I would like to see some suggestions because I haven’t. Business and people are not going to come to a dying community.”


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