Thursday, May 5, 2011
Chapter Nine:My First Environmental Meeting, about the Pipeline Explosion....A Lesson In Corporate Honesty
Chapter Nine: My first Environmental Meeting : The Pipeline
I mentioned in the earlier chapter about the Pipeline Explosion and how it was puzzling, confusing and yes, worrisome. As we moved into town it occurred to me that I should learn more about the Explosion and how it was handled and how the town was coping with the After Effects. My new neighborhood in town was actually much closer to the area where it happened, and people still were talking about it and trying to figure out HOW it happened, and could it happen again.
So one of the first things I did when I moved to town was I went to a Pipeline Meeting to learn more. It would teach me much.
I arrived late, as I had gotten lost, so I snuck in the back and sat quietly and pulled out a pad and pen and started writing notes. People near me stared at me like I was from Mars. I smiled back.
The meeting was very odd. The family of one of the victims sat on one side, they were surrounded by Police. I thought that was very odd. I found myself wondering, had they been threatened ? or harassed ? I would slowly see that the Police were there as Enforcement, and in no way there to help the family. It was subtle and disturbing.
Now some background, I had been reading for months about the Pipeline explosion as it was in the Newspapers in Seattle daily. I still read Seattle papers even after we moved. I researched Rules and Regs about Pipelines, Safety Rules and also environmental rules and rulings about the Contamination, but also about the dangers of the pipeline running through neighborhoods. ( In Seattle we had even lived near a different part of the same pipeline, so it was research worth pursuing). So yes, I arrived at the meeting with my Concerns and Questions about the Pipeline, it's safety, and Future safety and also about Contamination Risks that still existed after the explosion.
I spent some time listening to presentations by the Fuel Company Execs, and Some Engineers, and also some City Exces. It would be the first time that I would witness the Players in this small town and how Emergencies were handled. At one point the questions started to fly from some Workers and Engineers in the room, about Safety issues. I took notes and listened carefully and realized that some other people had some questions similar to mine, which was oddly reassuring.
The Pipeline Company had sent a PR Lady to the event, she was wearing Talbots and Pearls and dressed like she was going to a Meeting at the Women's Club to plan the Fall Benefit. Most of the people in the room were college kids, Family people in jeans, there were no other pearls. She was flustered and flushing, smiling too much with capped teeth. The questions started to increase. But also details about the event began to emerge. Like that before that Event there had been Shakings and Power Surges that morning. And Someone else asked if it was true that the Pipeline was For Sale and had been shown to a Buyer that Morning of the Explosion . ( That question alone brought the room to a standstill). Mrs. Chippy as we called her in the Back row...was looking less and less Chipper, and more hot and bothered.
The Family asked Questions about HOW could they Think of Opening the Pipeline without properly taking MORE precautions. They were clearly upset, three innocent Children had died due to the Explosion, and others had been injured. It was a personal issue. No One in this Country had ever died due to a Pipeline Explosion near a town before. The Cops stood up and moved to encircle the family, adjusting their pants and standing talller around the grieving family. A City Official near me nodded, and whispered to me " there have been threats ". I whispered back " Against the Family ?". " No, against the Pipeline and the City". I whispered back, " that is too bad, but the poor family should not be treated like that". I bent my head and kept writing, but it bothered me, and you could see the tension building in the room. The Cops were being used to intimidate, it was obvious.
I started asking questions, focusing on safety and Contamination issues, and I even asked some Pipe questions. I was perplexed WHY they were in such a hurry to get the pipeline open and leave the town so confused and worried. There seemed to be No regard for the Town's fears or worries, none. I asked my Questions in a Series of three, clearly and carefully, and if they cut me off I would say , " I am not done yet". Now under pressure I have a slight Southern Accent , just enough that it puzzles people, especially in the NorthWest. I slowly realized that people were really listening and were nodding about my Questions about the Safety of the Town and how the Company was not being Forthcoming enough. People started handing me notes, and asking me to to ask their questions. " They don't know you..they think you are a lawyer, but you are getting results" they whispered. And the City Official that was sitting next to got up and left. ( I knew that I had hit some kind of nerve).
Finally I asked " But I am confused, you want the Pipeline Re-opened, and yet you have offered Nothing here to reassure the People. No New Safety equipment or procedures and no special assessment teams, and no new testing. " ( that got applause, and then we all notived that Mrs.Chippy's lip had started quivering and she was starting to tear up.) A city Official came to the Mike, " This is very Upsetting, and you all have been too harsh on the Representitive, There will be a 10 minute break." ( there was muffled laughter and guffaws).
And during the Break people came to me " Are you a lawyer ? A journalist ? WHO are you ?" I explained I was just a mom, a nurse that had moved there recently. No one believed me. And then the Pipeline sent people over asking for my card, and I explained I was merely a concerned citizen.
The meeting continued and little was resolved or addressed. As I left I stopped and spoke to the families, and ended up talking to them outside.The older brother told me all about the Day of the Explosion and about what happened to his brother. Parts of his story bothered me, and still do. That his brother was burned, but a bright luminous yellow. And that the boys had not been immediately airlifted to Seattle, even though that is where the Burn Unit was. I was also disturbed by what he said about how the water was on fire, and how everyone said it was a mushroom cloud. And then they told me that the Boys were blamed for the fire, that they had been playing with a lighter that supposedly the Chief of Police "found" very far from the actual scene of the explosion. And then I was puzzled by how people could have felt Earth shakes and seen power surges BEFORE the explosion, that made no sense. I listened to them and gave the family a hug and walked home feeling confused and wondering What was Wrong with this town.
I did ask One Water Question that night, I asked if the Safety of the Water had been Checked after the explosion. As the Pipeline explosion happened right next to the Water Treatment Plant and also within close range of the Lake, The Drinking Water for so many. No One Could answer my question, and there was much squirming at the question. And during the break a Man handed me a crumpled note " ask about the pipe, the pipeline pipe is and was mere inches from the Water Pipe". I sat holding that note and wondering What that really meant, and worse, was it True.
I admit that night I did go to sleep not thinking at all about the Red Trucks....