Coal trains and Albany

Amtrak's Coast Starlight heads north out of Albany on the Union Pacific main line. Would coal trains lead to expanding the line's capacity?

Amtrak's Coast Starlight heads north out of Albany on the Union Pacific main line. Would coal trains lead to expanding the line's capacity?

See the reaction at the end.The coal train controversy has come to Albany, unlikely as the prospect of actual coal transport through the mid-valley seems.

A local group led by Peter Goodman of North Albany is worried about the plans by the Port of Coos Bay to become a coal-export terminal. This plan would entail two long trains a day carrying coal on the Union Pacific main line.

Local opponents have organized a public forum from 6 to 8 p.m. on February 17 at the main Albany Public Library. They cite coal dust as their main concern, along with crossing blockages and of course the main reason the environmental movement is opposed: They want to stop the burning of coal in order to slow down global warming.

Coal dust may or may not be a problem. If it is, the railroads carrying coal would have to take measures to prevent it. Meanwhile, though, the Coos Bay plan, if realized at all, would take many years to become reality. If there are problems, there's plenty of time to work them out.

If in fact the Union Pacific had to move two coal trains a day from the Portland area to Eugene, this might be the impetus for expanding the capacity of the main line, which could have benefits for Albany. For one thing, if the Queen Avenue crossing was shut down for even longer periods to accommodate slow-moving coal trains, this would be an incentive to solve that traffic problem, which is generations old. Since the rail and street grades can't be separated there, the answer is to close the street and build a grade separation farther south. Likewise, expansion of the line would make more urgent Albany's proposed construction of the 53rd Avenue overpass, which is necessary anyway if industrial land east of the rail line is ever to be developed.

And finally, expansion of the main line for coal trains would also solve the problem of where to route increased passenger trains. Once the line's capacity is quadrupled, there would be no sense putting more passenger trains anywhere else. (hh)

From Ted Salmons: Great article.  I grew up in Eastern Kentucky (read coal).  Across the river from West Virginia (read more coal).  Now I'll admit there are some problems with the mining methods in that part of the country but that's not the issue with your article.  I've seen railroad right of ways that have had uncountable numbers of coal trains passing across them for decades.  And in the spring and summer they are as vibrant, green and blooming as anywhere else in the area.  If the coal industry was "losing" anywhere the amount of product the opponents claim, they would have covered the cars years ago and the railroad right of ways would have burst into flames long before now.
In WV they usually spray slight amounts of dihydrogen monoxide (read cheap and available) on the loads of coal to keep the dust to a minimum during transport.  Hopefully the opponents won't go high and to the right when they find that out.

From Jody: After reading the comment from your other reader, about spraying DHMO, I googled that and found this on widipedia, if that is to be a trusted source:
Dihydrogen monoxide:
is called "hydroxyl acid", the substance is the major component of acid rain.
contributes to the "greenhouse effect".
may cause severe burns.
is fatal if inhaled.
contributes to the erosion of our natural landscape.
accelerates corrosion and rusting of many metals.
may cause electrical failures and decreased effectiveness of automobile brakes.
has been found in excised tumors of terminal cancer patients.
Despite the danger, dihydrogen monoxide is often used:
as an industrial solvent and coolant.
in nuclear power plants.
in the production of Styrofoam.
as a fire retardant.
in many forms of cruel animal research.
in the distribution of pesticides. Even after washing, produce remains contaminated by this chemical.
as an additive in certain "junk-foods" and other food products.

Editor's note: Dihydrogen monoxide is another was of saying H2O, and Wikipedia is not above carrying a satirical entry.

Good news news for Albany ratepayers — unless

Part of the Albany council at work on Monday, during a work session.

Part of the Albany council at work on Monday, during a work session.

There's good news for customers of the Albany city water system, assuming that voters don't erase part of it with the initiative election that ends March 12.

The good news: Last year, when the price of water was raised 3 percent, Albany's public works department projected the price would have to rise 4 percent in 2013 in order to keep up with expenses. On Monday (Jan. 27) Public Works Director Mark Shepard was able to tell the city council that only a 2 percent hike, half of what was projected, would be required this year. That's because, he said, the department paid careful attention to controlling costs, and even with the smaller increase, the city could still meet debt service payments and meet the annual target of spending $1.25 million on repairs and capital projects.

The debt service is on a $40 million revenue bond the city sold about 10 years ago to finance a new water treatment plant and other work. Now, because of low interest rates, the city plans to refinance that debt, and if that's successful, it would save about $150,000 a year, which could be used to hold future annual water rate hikes below the percentages now projected to be necessary.

The refinancing assumes that Albany voters reject the pending debt limit initiative, or that the ban of "new debt" without voter approval does not apply to refinancing. It's hard to say exactly what "new debt" means. Normally, if the city issues a debt instrument it did not have before, the plain language says it would be "new" even if it replaces a former debt. So depending on what the courts eventually say if the ballot measure passes, and whether the measure can truly limit debt retroactively to last Feb. 28 as it purports to do, approval of the debt limit might prevent the refinancing that would save ratepapers money. Surely that's not what the proponents of this initiative had in mind. (hh)

 

Smart meters? Not yet

We'll be glad to make do with dumb meters like this for a while longer.

We'll be glad to make do with dumb meters like this for a while longer.

Some people around the country are worried about electric meters known as "smart meters," and from the standpoint of privacy and personal autonomy they may have a point. But if you're a customer of Pacific Power here in Oregon, you don't have to worry just yet.

Last week the Chicago Tribune reported that in Naperville, Ill., two women were arrested when they tried to prevent the city electric utility there from installing smart meters. The city of about 150,000 was installing 57,000 of those meters all over its system, and if customers didn't want them they would have to pay $25 extra a month to have their old meters read.

Smart meters can be read remotely, but they also allow two-way communication between the utility and your house. Critics fear they would eventually enable the utility or some central authority to monitor and even control their daily electric use, for example by cutting them off during times of high demand.

I asked Pacific Power about smart meters. Tom Gauntt, a company spokesman in Portland, pointed out there's a difference between automated and smart meters. Automated ones merely send a signal that can be read from the street so the meter reader does not have to go up to each one, and Pacific has installed them in Washington state and a few places in Oregon where access to meters was difficult. Smart meters, though, are not in the plans.

Gauntt told me: "Smart meters would ... work best on a smart grid of transformers and substations all equipped with interactive equipment. ... This technology is evolving and does not seem to have reached a stable industry standard point where an investment is advisable on a scale we would  have to make it."

The upshot? In what we used to call Pacific Powerland, we'll continue to be able to make our own decisions -- about how much power to use when -- for a good long time. (hh)

 

Book report: Try Ian Rankin’s crime novels

Here's a recommendation for readers of detective fiction: The John Rebus novels by Ian Rankin take you into the Lothian and Borders Police, which covers Edinburgh and environs. Read them before it's too late. Lothian and Borders Police will become part of the new Police Service of Scotland on April 1.

And now, as for those lids…

After the disposal truck has come by...

After the disposal truck has come by...

There are big problems in the world. I don't have to tell you that. And then there are little things, not all that serious, but who says they don't deserve being mentioned now and then as well? So let's take a look at why trash cans fill with water.

They fill with water when it rains because their lids have been left open. They are open because of advances in trash collection. Thirty years ago on trash day, the guy from the disposal company would come around, pick up your trash can and dump it in his truck. Then he would put it down where he found it and jam the lid back on.

But time marches on, and there's no stopping progress. Picking up the trash has been mechanized, at least by the big companies that now do this job. Republic Services provides the service in most of Oregon's Linn and Benton counties. It used to be Allied Waste, until Republic bought it. Before that it was Albany-Lebanon Sanitation and Corvallis Disposal, before that company was absorbed by Allied Waste. But I digress.

The Republic trucks come around once a week, without fail. They have a mechanical arm that reaches out, grabs your trash bin, lifts it up and turns it upside down to empty it into the truck's copious hold. Then it slams the bin back on the ground, and the truck moves to the next house, leaving nothing behind except a little oil slick where it stopped. What it fails to do -- as often as not -- is to close the lid on the now empty can.

Suppose it has been raining off and on all day. The homeowner gets home and what does he find? An inch of water in the bottom of the can -- not just in the trash container but in the recycling bin as well. Unless he wants next week's old newspapers and cardboard to turn to mush before they can be recycled, he turns the containers upside down and pours the water out.

Suggestion for the next advance in waste disposal: Develop a can that, after it's emptied, closes itself. (hh)

From Ray Kopczynski: It may[?] be more simple than that – have multiple drain holes in the bottoms of the cans.  A few of those placed strategically by design would accomplish the task and not cause any lessening in inherent strength of the containers.

From Howard Wright: A side note, here in Lincoln County cameras are installed in the garbage trucks and if you try to recycle something you aren't supposed to, they will call you on it. I think it also provides proof that your can was at curbside. I can't imagine another reason for the camera but there is a screen inside the truck that the driver monitors.

From Charyse Appledoorn Hill, via Facebook:  Or when the mechanical arm gets the lid caught on the truck and rips it off.

From Steve A. Brown, via Facebook: Good suggestion drilling a number of well placed drainage holes in the bottom of the can. We are constantly finding our bins with water in them. I wonder if Republic would mind if I drilled them myself?
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