The Tragedy as Described by the Parents
As described by Marlene Robinson at a U.S. Senate hearing in 2000
On June 10 of last year, my 18 year-old son Liam, who had graduated from high school five days before, happened to be fly-fishing in his favorite place, Whatcom Falls Park; a pristine piece of nature not 5 minutes from downtown. Just a week before, Liam had come home one evening from fishing the creek. While we ate dinner together, he told us about his excitement when he’d come upon a big otter swimming peacefully in one of the pools. He watched it for a long time. I’m sure that he looked for that otter on June 10 as he made his way down the creek. He was in a steep gorge when the 230,000 gallons of gasoline spilled down the creek. The oxygen in the gorge was replaced by a 35-foot wall of hydrocarbon fumes. Liam was overcome within seconds. He fell into the foot-deep creek and drowned. A short time later, the gasoline and fumes exploded, sending the fireball down the creek that killed Wade and Steven and every other living thing in its path for a mile and a half.
I no longer have children to protect. Nothing I do or say about this issue can bring Liam back. I do, however, consider it my privilege and obligation to do what I can to protect the children of this and other communities. I need to impress upon you that it is not enough to make minor changes in pipeline safety regulation and to once again hand over the reins to OPS. Before June 10, none of us in Bellingham had any idea that we needed to be experts in fuel transportation safety. We frankly didn’t even know that we had a gasoline pipeline running through the very heart of Bellingham, under streets, past houses, schools, and parks. We thought we had a federal agency called the Office of Pipeline Safety, and we had faith that that agency was doing its job.
We no longer have that faith. I urge this committee to do what is necessary to protect the citizens of this nation from further avoidable and predictable tragedies caused by inadequate regulation, oversight and enforcement. My recent education has convinced me that we need two things. We need a federal Office of Pipeline Safety that is staffed by committed, expert servants who have the health and safety of communities as their bottom line. And we need a strong, well-funded citizens advisory council to ensure that over time, we do not return to business as usual.
As described by Bruce Brabec at a U.S. Senate hearing in 2000
Last week, Marlene and I decided to visit the site where Liam’s body was found. We had been there once, a few days after his death, and weren’t sure we could find it again. We had seen then how badly damaged the creek was. This time, we were accompanied by some friends in the police department who knew the site. We thought it would be good to get a better bearing on the site so that we could visit it later on our own. I planned to stand there and imagine Liam fishing in this once beautiful canyon – I imagined it as a site where I would be able to reflect joyfully about Liam as I knew how much he loved fishing in that canyon. Well, the experience was quite the opposite. I saw the burned out canyon, the burned trees, the bare banks, the rocks cracked by the heat generated during the explosion, the downed trees in the water. And I saw Liam floating face down in the creek and the part of his body out of the water. And I saw Liam floating face down in the creek and the part of his body out of the water charred by the blast.
I am not bringing all this up to upset people, but to make a plea that Liam’s death not be in vain, to plead that other families not have to be condemned as we are to these kind of experiences and memories. Because of the loss of our son, we are certainly biased about the importance of stricter regulation and accountability, but we believe everyone should be similarly biased by our experience.
As Described by Katherine Dalen at a U.S. Senate hearing in 2000
My name is Katherine Dalen, and I am the parent of Stephen Tsiorvas who, at the age of ten, lost his life, along with two other sons of this community, in a devastating accident that was, like so many others, preventable. When I decided to come and speak with you today, I puzzled over what it is I most wanted to say, what of all the things I feel, believe, and know were most important to relate to you. I wondered what words I could speak that would make the most impact and inspire change so that this tragedy would never be repeated, so that other lives would be saved. The first thing always on my mind is the depth of my sorrow and grief over Stephen’s death and how much pain his loss has brought my family. I could go on about that for hours. I could tell you how sometimes the sadness tears our hearts apart and drowns our spirits. But our grief is personal, as would be yours had you lost a child by any means. My sadness, my family’s suffering, can only serve to remind you how precious life is, how important it is that we love and protect our families, and how easy it is to lose those we love.