Warrenton Fire Chief Ted Ames is worried about his agency's ability to protect the public if a liquefied natural gas terminal is build in Clatsop County.
Ames knows his department doesn't have the resources to handle an LNG emergency right now. In fact, with 800 service calls a year, he said, the agency struggles to keep up with day-to-day operations as it is.
If the Bradwood Landing LNG terminal is built upriver from Astoria, the Warrenton and Astoria fire districts would have to be prepared to assist the Knappa fire department in responding to an LNG emergency.
Last year, project developer NorthernStar Natural Gas Inc. hired consultants to negotiate with local public safety officials over who would pay for the additional resources needed to protect the new facility.
But Ames said he hasn't talked with the company representatives since last fall, and he hasn't been offered the resources he requested.
"I'm really stepping out on a limb here," Ames said, "but I am concerned about my own department's ability to not only keep up with day-to-day operations, but to provide any kind of response assistance to Knappa. I'm very concerned about our ability to do anything in case of a tanker mishap. I'm just not comfortable at all."
Earlier this year, the cities of Astoria and Warrenton sent letters to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the agency that approves LNG terminals, disputing NorthernStar's claims that local public safety issues had been resolved.
"Astoria categorically rejects and disputes any claim or characterization that the proposed Emergency Response Plan and proposed cost-sharing agreements are acceptable to Astoria, or are otherwise fair and reasonable," Astoria's letter stated.
Overall, the company's offerings to fill gaps in local resources were "insufficient and unacceptable," the letter said.
As the Bradwood project moves into the final stages of the federal LNG approval process, Ames said he's wondering when NorthernStar will address outstanding public safety issues at the terminal and along the LNG tanker transit route up the Columbia.
"It seems like there's a train on the track ... and it's definitely got a head of steam. It's definitely roaring ahead," he said. "The ability for Knappa, Warrenton and Astoria to protect public safety can't be lost, and in my opinion Bradwood Landing is not negotiating in good faith."
Ames said he is only speaking for the Warrenton Fire Department, and that he doesn't support or oppose LNG.
The industry has a good track record, he said, with very few accidents.
"But I have to look at the potential for an accident or potential danger to the citizens," he said. "If we put a product that is as potentially flammable as an LNG facility, we've increased the probability to do harm to the public. My job is to prepare for that."
On weekdays, Ames said, his department may only have two or three people available to respond to emergency medical calls, car crashes or fires.
"How can a small fire department with two paid people and 30 volunteers prepare for a potential of an accident involving an LNG tanker somewhere along the Columbia River on our shores?" he said. "The bottom line is I need an awful lot of people and an awful lot of stuff to prepare for that, and it shouldn't be the taxpayers responsibility to do that."
His requests for resources to protect the Oregon LNG facility, on Warrenton's Skipanon Peninsula, is more extensive than his requests to Bradwood Landing. His list includes four additional paid personnel, a ladder truck with 100-foot elevated platform, a foam engine, a four-acre training facility, a fire boat and a training session at Texas A&M for staff and volunteers.
Based on his experience so far with NorthernStar, Ames is not so sure his requests will be taken seriously.
"Whatever proposal is built," he said, "the governor's office doesn't have a fire department. ... FERC doesn't either. But the decisions those people make have a direct impact not just on the environment ... they have a direct impact on local agencies' ability to protect public safety. ... The needs of the public safety providers need to be addressed and paid attention to, and I just don't think they're being addressed appropriately."