Oil train forum violated Open Public Meetings Law

Dear Editor:
There is cause for great concern on the issue of the unsafe oil trains carrying highly flammable Bakken crude oil through our towns, across our waterways and over the Oradell Reservoir, drinking water supply to 800,000.
On July 25, Congressman Scott Garrett held a forum about rail safety which gathered town officials and first responders to discuss the oil train safety, but excluded the public. The meeting was called without public notice, and was held at the Bergenfield Council Chambers, a clear violation of the Open Public Records Act.
Nearly 25 people from the Coalition to Ban Unsafe Oil Trains, area residents, as well as leaders and members of the Sierra Club NJ, Environment New Jersey, 350NJ, and GreenFaith and other organizations traveled to the Forum in the hopes of participating. There, we encountered Congressman Garrett, who denied us access, explaining that it was an invitation-only meeting. Congressman Garrett asked the Bergenfield Police to remove us, and we were threatened with arrest.
Excluding citizens concerned was a terrible insult! Even worse, however, it denied the people of New Jersey’s Fifth District the ability to hear and discuss the many concerns about Bakken crude oil and crude by rail safety in our community, despite the industry’s assurances that they are safe.
Many of us live in the blast zone of the CSX River Line. We know an awful lot about the “bomb trains” which idle, park, stop traffic, and blow whistles day and night. We can name dozens of fiery derailments and explosions of the bomb trains in the U.S. and Canada.
Congressman Garrett tells us he is making progress on this issue. The Federal government extended the deadline for replacing the DOT111 tank cars which run on the CSX River Line, but we know better. Those rules allow the inadequate, puncture prone cars to run through our towns carrying volatile Bakken crude for more than 10 years – keeping our safety and security at great risk. There are no safe tank cars for carrying Bakken crude. Transport of Bakken should, instead, be banned.
Our organizations continue to educate the community on the risks and hazards of oil trains, and how they and all dangerous fossil fuels can be replaced with clean safe renewable energy.
At an Oct. 4 meeting of the Bergenfield Town Council, John Schettino, Bergenfield Township attorney, deemed the forum called by Congressman Garrett, and the exclusion of the public, a violation of the Open Public Meetings Act. There are two remedies for such violations: a lawsuit or conducting a public meeting on the same topic.
We call on the Bergenfield Council to co-sponsor a Public Forum on Oil Trains and Rail Safety, with special focus on the passage of these trains over the Oradell Reservoir, drinking water supply to 800,000 people. We also invite our next representative of New Jersey’s Fifth District to join that meeting and hear our concerns.
Paula Rogovin,
Coalition to Ban Unsafe Oil Trains