Eugene City Council considers a blunderbuss approach to economy and employment in Coos County. by Pat Farr
On Monday July 9 2012 the Eugene City Council will consider Resolution 5065, put forward by Councilor Alan Zelenka, that would, among other things, direct the City Manager to “explore whether there are local, state or federal laws…that can be used to prevent the transport of coal through the City, and if so, take reasonable steps to prevent that transport.”
The resolution is designed to prevent the transport of coal to the Port of Coos Bay for shipment overseas.
The research background listed as the reason for the Resolution is, as stated in the Council Agenda Item Summary, that “Support for council action on this resolution was expressed during public testimony at City Council meetings…”
No work session has been held and no public testimony has been broadly solicited. Monday night public forum testimony and accompanying emails have been the sole venue for public comment. Monday night public forums are renowned for groups with a particular interest stacking the testimony. Usually this approach results in a more carefully studied and engineered approach by the Council, as with the recent issue regarding raising goats in back yards inside the City. At other times the public testimony approach has been completely disregarded.
While commendable in its intent, the resolution unfortunately calls for the City to take action on an issue that has not been fully defined. It calls for immediate action that would find ways to stop any kind of coal transport through the city, no matter what findings surface regarding the actual dusting of coal from the trains in the Eugene area or what technology is employed to prevent any sifting dust.
Should findings surface that support coal dust would be spread dangerously into our area it would be prudent–essential–that we take means to protect people living here. The resolution does not take into account emerging methods of sealing transport cars and calls for the City to begin lobbying on behalf of the ban on transport immediately. Should manufacturers such as Oregon’s Greenbrier Companies, which designs and produces specialized rail cars, provide fully sealed cars for the coal, the resolution would still remain in effect despite the impact being fully mitigated.
While taking aim at what may prove to be a legitimate target, like shooting a blunderbuss much adjacent damage will be done. Even if technology or research subsequently determines that any threat has been mitigated, the result of the resolution would remain, and its lasting effect on the economy of Oregon’s Bay Area would continue to be felt.
Congressman Peter DeFazio expedited the reopening of the Coos Bay rail line in order to bring jobs to one of America’s hardest-hit economic areas. Coos County unemployment rate hovers over 10% and more than half of the kids in schools in Coos County are eligible for free and reduced price lunches (click here for statistics).
The Congressman recently announced a decision by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to obligate $13.5 million in competitive grant funding to finish repairs on the Coos Bay rail line and restore rail service vital to the coastal economy (click here for the full story).
By acting on this resolution now (before the actual execution and impact of the rail transport is determined) the Council would create a negative impact that would likely cause the deep water terminus in Coos Bay–job creation that would be made possible by the proposed train transport–to be built elsewhere. The result would be a continuation of the economic slide that Southwest Oregon is mired in.