Prayers, fears on a somber anniversary

WNYT | July 6, 2014 | Column by Steve Flamisch

ALBANY – South End residents on Sunday paid tribute to the 47 people who died when an oil train exploded in Lac-Mégantic, Québec one year ago – fearful they could one day suffer the same fate.

"If it happened to those 47, it can happen to us right here," Pastor McKinley Johnson, of St. John’s Church of God in Christ, told a gathering of about 150 people.

The vigil took place on a basketball court at the Ezra Prentice Homes, a community that borders the railroad tracks leading to the Port of Albany.

"I just don't want it to happen here," resident Kim Turner, a mother of two, told NewsChannel 13. "I want everybody to be safe. They need to move the trains somewhere else so it won’t happen."

It’s not easy for the residents to move because the waiting list for low-income housing is too long, said Charlene Benton, the president of the Ezra Prentice Homes Tenants Association.

"People wait on that list for years," said Benton, whose grandchildren often come to visit her. "There's just not enough homes -- subsidized homes -- available."

Motivated in part by the plight of the residents -- and the deadly train derailment up north -- the group People of Albany United for Safe Energy (PAUSE) renewed its call to stop the trains in their tracks.

"What PAUSE wants is a moratorium on the shipments of Bakken crude oil through Albany right now," said Sandy Steuben, the group’s co-founder and spokesperson.

Many of the same people who are fighting against the oil trains are also opposed to the Keystone XL oil pipeline, which could potentially reduce the amount of crude transported on the nation’s rails.

PAUSE supports neither method because the U.S. government should move from fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy, Steuben argued.

The vigil came one week to the day after an estimated 100 gallons of oil leaked from a stationary rail car at the nearby Kenwood Rail Yard. Global Partners said there was no damage to the environment.

Rich Hendrick, the general manager of the Albany Port District Commission, praised Global’s handling of the situation, saying the company transports oil through Albany as safely as possible.

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PAUSE, People of Albany United for Safe Energy
PAUSE is a grassroots group of individuals who have come together to promote safe, sustainable energy and fight for environmental justice. We engage the greater public to stop the fossil fuel industry’s assault on the people of Albany and our environment.