Toward a Greener Washington County

By Nick Engelfried of Forest Grove, Oregon. Nick is a senior at Pacific University and helped organize the Washington County Sustainability Summit at the University. Previously, he contributed "Learning from the Kingston disaster; shut down Oregon's Boardman coal plant".

In the only metro-area County whose Board of Commissioners declined to participate in the Sierra Club’s “Cool Counties Climate Stabilization Initiative” last summer, major environmental leadership comes usually from below the level of the Board. This was readily apparent over the weekend of February 7th-8th during the citizen-led WA County Sustainability Summit at Pacific University, which brought together some of the most important environmental initiatives going forward in the local area.

Over 100 County residents registered for the two-day Summit, which was organized largely by Pacific students who invited not only locally elected officials, but also plain old-fashioned community organizers to share their views on how our community might transition to a world that can no longer afford to run on fossil fuels.

Ideas generated at the Summit: increase public transportation options (oh, for a lightrail into Forest Grove), toughen energy efficiency standards for new buildings, and preserve Washington County farmland as a vital source of locally grown foods for our area. Peter Lunsford of Washington County Peak Oil pointed to local governments in places as diverse as Singapore and Germany which are finding creative ways to reduce energy consumption and dependence on fossil fuels. I, for one, left with the feeling that though we have a long, long, way to go in Washington County, solutions to this community’s energy and environmental problems do exist and are within reach.

Still, perhaps the most important conclusion at the Summit was a consensus that this area’s multi-faceted sustainability movement, currently harboring so much potential, could be severely weakened by one giant fossil fuel project: Liquefied Natural Gas, commonly known as LNG. Washington County’s two greatest assets in the struggle to go green are its open farmland and its proximity to the clean energy economy in Oregon. LNG threatens both of these green blessings. Columbia Riverkeeper’s Olivia Schmidt warned at the Summit that a market suddenly flooded with an imported fossil fuel like LNG has the potential to shut down renewable energy projects across the state.

Meanwhile, the Palomar LNG Pipeline would cut through miles of prime Washington County farmland, permanently limiting its use. LNG is not just bad for the landowners whose livelihoods are jeopardized by Palomar: it represents a major threat to sustainability in Washington County.

Here’s to hoping that Washington County rises to take its place beside our true environmental leaders at the local government level. Doing so will mean defeating the Palomar Pipeline, instituting a plethora of clean energy and energy efficiency initiatives, and probably voting out a few reactionary politicians come election-time. But the joining-together of community members this month signified to me that citizens are ready to do what it takes. The time has come to set Washington County on its path toward a green and glorious future.

  • Nick Engelfried (unverified)

    And to follow the progress of the Washington County sustainability movement after the summit, please visit I will be posting frequent updates about initiatives inspired by the Summit.

  • Erik H. (unverified)

    "increase public transportation options (oh, for a lightrail into Forest Grove)"

    Once again, the idea is "let's spend all of our mass transit money in one basket" to solve doesn't.

    At $30 million a mile, extending MAX from Hillsboro to Forest Grove would cost $180 million (six miles). This would, certainly, improve transit for the residents of Forest Grove and Cornelius (population: 25,630; 21,465 for FG, 4,165 for Cornelius) but as it would likely result in eliminating the 57 bus line (or severely curtailing it) and would likely add no new bus services throughout Forest Grove, only a very small ridership increase - plus dozens of new single-occupant car trips (for people to drive to the new, free, subsidized, park-and-ride lots) would be added.

    It would create a few jobs that would dissipate within one year.

    The same $180 million could also be used to purchase over 200 high capacity, hybrid-electric, articulated buses (at $750,000 a pop) which would be used throughout all of Washington County - including adding service to Gaston, Banks and North Plains which currently have zero transit options along with Scholls and Farmington, and potentially adding service on the Highway 47 corridor south to McMinnville and north to Vernonia. It would improve neighborhood access by adding the neighborhood bus routes in Forest Grove (where the only transit service exists along Pacific Avenue) and to the new developments in Cornelius. It would provide newer buses which are proven (in cities like Seattle) to increase ridership by adding amenities and giving a better impression of service to potential riders. Some of the money could be used for enhanced bus stops, adding many of the amenities which are standard at a MAX stop for bus stops. Imagine...being able to WALK to a quality bus stop, regardless of where you live, instead of firing up your car and driving to a MAX park-and-ride.

    Already, $166 million was spent on WES and what do we have to show for it? Yes, we have a train that runs seven hours a day, five days a week. Most Washington Square employees can't use it. People are complaining that once they get off the WES train, it's difficult to get to their final destination because the bus left three minutes before the train arrived. The ticket machines don't accept cash and is inherently exclusionary. And on Friday, one-third of the trains had to be eliminated because of an "electrical problem".

    With a fleet of 200 buses, there would certainly be some "excess" in case of a sudden mechanical failure, another bus could show up. For WES? It was the bus to the rescue.

    200 buses, hybrid-electric, articulated high capacity buses, would do more for Washington County than a six mile light rail extension that relies on a coal-burning power plant in Eastern Oregon.

  • WunderBlunder (unverified)

    Great leader wants miles and miles of light rail. The proles must give up their cars! If you aren't green, you're dead!

    Lars has been all over this for years.

  • Nick Engelfried (unverified)

    Wow - you people obviously were looking for an excuse to go off about light rail, and used the fleeting mention of the subject in my post as your opportunity. Did you notice that light rail was simply one of many possible solutions to our energy problems which I mentioned in my post - and not even the main one? Let me humbly suggest that you read the whole post. Then maybe we can have a more productive conversation.

  • Peter Lunsford (unverified)

    To the naysayers -- Light rail does not replace existing forms of transportation. Numerous studies by the best experts on light rail consistently demonstrate that light rail reduces the growth of auto traffic; absorbs growth impacts.

    With world oil output close to peaking, there will not be enough economically recoverable oil to support a worldwide auto and truck fleet expansion along U.S. lines or, indeed, to sustain the existing U.S. fleet. Oil shocks are now a major security risk. (If you didn't know this, you need to get your head out of your video games.) The United States, where 88 percent of the 133 million working people travels to work by car, is dangerously vulnerable.

    World experts and informed governments now agree that reaching CO2 reduction targets depends on a heavy shift of transportation funds from highway construction to urban transit and intercity rail construction. And the CO2 reductions ARE going to occur, like it or not.

    So whatever your politics, whatever your stand is on environmental issues, the change IS coming. One can avoid thinking of climate change as an environmental issue, rather it can also be recognized as a fundamental market shift, with all the major and serious implications that go along with it. And it will be affecting virtually all sectors of the economy in varying degrees.

    <h2>The fundamental question you should be asking is, "will YOU be effectively positioned for a smooth transition?"</h2>
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