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Signatures collected to put restrictions on coal, oil trains through Spokane

Signatures collected to put...

SPOKANE, Wash. - Making oil and coal trains safer has been an ongoing effort for some Spokane residents. On Monday, the Safer Spokane Campaign turned in more than 4,500 signatures to get the measure on the November ballot.

The group's goal is to lower the danger of a possible train derailment through the core of Spokane.

The Safer Spokane Campaign says the measure would require oil companies to reduce the flammability of Bakken crude oil before it is shipped by rail, and would require coal railcars be covered during shipment.

On Monday afternoon, Jim Lee and other members of the Safer Spokane Campaign group delivered their signatures to City Hall, to put Proposition 2016-6 on the ballot.

"I think a lot of people would have difficulty conceptualizing how devastating an oil spill fire explosion in downtown Spokane could be," said Jim Lee, with Safer Spokane.

Lee believes that's a risk the city of Spokane shouldn't take.

"The probability is low, but the impact is so huge," he said.

The measure, as it is written in the petition, would make it a "class 1 civil infraction for any person or entity to allow a rail car that it owns to ship uncontained coal and some types of oil by rail through the downtown Spokane core, or within 2,000 feet of a school, hospital, or the Spokane river."

"We like trains and we need oil," Lee said, "but this neither impacts the railroads nor does it prevent the shipment of oil through Spokane. It just requires the oil companies to reduce the flammability and vapor pressure so it drastically reduces the risk of a fire and explosion in the case of derailment."

"Congress has the power to regulate railroads and they gave localities to intervene for safety and unique situations," explained Council member Breean Beggs who co-wrote this version of the initiative. Beggs says the rail lines' proximity to the Spokane river and the elevated rails going through the city make Spokane's situation unique.

Keep Washington Competitive, a group describing itself as "a coalition united to protect trade from overreaching regulations and to promote bi-lateral trade growth in Washington state through sound state policies and fostering a regulatory environment that encourages investment in our state trade industries" responded to the group late Monday afternoon, saying last fall, the city's hearing examiner reviewed the measure and called it "illegal and unenforceable."

Michael Cathcart, executive director of Better Spokane, said in the release that "the backers of the initiative fail to understand the greater impact this measure stands to have on the Inland Northwest economy. "
Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich said in the statement in part, "It’s unenforceable and unconstitutional. It sets a bad precedent for our city and state and it’s going to cost taxpayers."

Council member Breean Beggs, who co wrote the measure along with Council member Lori Kinnear, says the voters should decide.

"The city might be part of a lawsuit to preserve Congress' right they gave them to protect their city, but there's also the catastrophic possibility of an explosion," he said, "so I think we as voters should decide what we want.."

Beggs explained the first version of the measure, considered by Spokane City Council last year, would have fined the railroad companies, but the current re-written version of the measure makes it so the infraction is applied to the oil/coal companies.

Next, these signatures will need to be counted and validated.

Safer Spokane Campaign hopes to know the fate of the measure by June 28.