Protest blocks train tracks; 5 taken into custody

EVERETT — More than two dozen people opposed to shipments of oil and coal blocked railroad tracks and cheered from bridges above a Burlington Northern Santa Fe yard on Tuesday morning.

The demonstration began about 6 a.m. in what’s known as the Delta rail yard along the Snohomish River in north Everett, with people erecting an 18-foot-high tripod across the tracks. On a siding nearby, a long train of oil tank cars sat idle.

Five people were either on or otherwise attached to the tripod. Others mingled on and alongside the tracks.

The five protesters were cut free or lowered to the ground and arrested. They were handcuffed and driven off in police cars around 2:30 p.m.

Among them were recently retired Everett schoolteacher Jackie Minchew and Everett cafe owner Mike Lapointe. Both have run unsuccessfully for public office — Minchew for Everett City Council, Lapointe for Congress in the 2nd District.

“We are doing what is called a peaceful, non-violent protest,” Minchew said by cellphone during the protest. He said he’s concerned about global warming and climate disruption.

The demonstration was announced by the group Rising Tide Seattle to protest shipments of oil, coal and gas by train and proposed shipping terminals in the Northwest. Delaney Piper, a spokeswoman for the protesters, said that using a structure like the tripod is unusual in a developed area. Typically, such structures are used to protest in the forest.

Abby Brockway, a Seattle woman wearing a green hard hat and bright yellow windbreaker, was suspended from the tripod, which resembled a bare teepee. She was wedged into the bough of the protruding poles.

Brockway said she didn’t know if she would be able to see her daughter, 12, off to her first day of school Wednesday.

“She is disappointed, but I know that someday she will understand,” she said.

Brockway said she has never been arrested but felt strongly enough about the danger of an oil train catastrophe and the damage to the climate to take a stand.

“It is a fossil-fuel cocktail,” she said.

While her daughter went to YMCA camp over the summer, Brockway went to “Action Camp” to learn protest strategies.

“I grew up in the 1970s,” she said by cellphone. “I sat in the long lines to get gas during the energy crisis. That fear of insecurity was there. As a kid I couldn’t do anything about it. Now I’m a mother and I can do something about it. There has got to be a better energy policy.”

Brockway was arrested after being lowered from her perch in the bucket of an Everett Fire Department ladder truck. Firefighters used hydraulic cutters to remove the other four, who had attached themselves to the tripod using various material.

An increase in the number of trains bearing oil from the northern Great Plains, and the possibility that coal shipments also will increase in coming years, have created concern among environmentalists and local officials.

A similar protest in Anacortes in July targeted the Tesoro refinery there, where Bakken crude oil shipments arrive by rail. Meanwhile, there are plans for a coal shipping terminal at Cherry Point.

Aside from concerns regarding the continued use of fossil fuel and its effect on the environment, safety concerns have emerged with increasing oil traffic on the rails. Last year, a runaway train carrying volatile oil from North Dakota derailed, hurtled down an incline and slammed into downtown Lac-Megantic, Quebec. Several train cars exploded and 40 buildings were leveled.

And in Seattle on July 24, a BNSF oil train derailed and three tank cars were damaged.

BNSF spokesman Gus Melonas said the Everett protesters blocked freight trains at the yard but the main line remained open.

The five people chained to the tripod will at a minimum face criminal trespass charges, Melonas said. They also could face charges for disrupting service and other allegations, he said. Eight protesters who were by the tracks but not attached to the tripod were issued warnings and peacefully left the property, Melonas said.

Everett police officers were standing by with BNSF security officers, who typically handle situations involving trespassing on railroad property.

Herald writers Rikki King and Chuck Taylor and The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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