Our Voice: Thumbs up to an independent audit of TRAC

June 15, 2014 

Independent review

To Franklin County commissioners for rejecting a proposal for more internal reviews of TRAC, and instead opting to seek bids for an independent audit of the facility.

Dave Beach, chairman of a TRAC advisory board made up of city and county appointees, asked commissioners to consider having county Auditor Matt Beaton and Pasco City Manager Gary Crutchfield appoint a "joint audit team," with an accountant from each of their staffs.

But the state auditor recommended an independent audit in a March report that faulted TRAC management for poor oversight of cash machines at the Pasco facility.

Besides, the county auditor's office would have to stop the process of installing new software designed to prevent internal theft if it were to take on the TRAC audit itself.

The county is spending $1.1 million on the new accounting software after Dennis Huston, Franklin County Public Works' former accounting and administrative director, was arrested in early 2012 for embezzling more than $2.8 million in county money.

Given Franklin County's troubled history and the recommendations of the state and county auditors' offices, the choice of an outside audit was the right one.

Need to know

To the federal Transportation Department and the BNSF Railway for trying to limit the release of information about Bakken crude oil shipments by rail.

The department and the railroads want state agencies to keep the information confidential, but Washington and some other states have not agreed to comply, citing open-records laws.

Controversy surrounding the shipments dates back at least to 2013, when a crude oil train disaster in Quebec killed 47 people. Subsequent accidents in Alabama, North Dakota, Pennsylvania and Virginia, though not fatal, underscored the lack of knowledge at the state and local level about the shipments, McClatchy News Service reported.

The issue took on new urgency April 30, when a 105-car CSX crude oil train derailed in downtown Lynchburg, Va. The city's mayor said he was not aware that such trains moved regularly through his community.

On May 7, the Transportation Department ordered railroads to provide states with information about Bakken crude oil shipments of 1 million gallons or more to help emergency responders. But it requested that such information be kept confidential by the states, calling it "security sensitive," McClatchy reported.

But destinations for the trains are publicly available from the railroad itself. An online map of BNSF crude oil facilities shows that it serves five destinations in the Northwest.

The map also shows the routes the railroad has available to move the oil from North Dakota and other states to the West Coast.

Vancouver Action Network, a group of community activists, has monitored the passage of crude oil trains in multiple locations in Washington, including Vancouver, Everett and the Columbia River Gorge.

Train spotters with the group use social media to post updates on train movements.

It's ludicrous to suggest that keeping data on the shipments a secret will somehow safeguard the trains from any bad actors intent on causing damage.

More likely, the railroad wants to protect itself from public scrutiny and criticism.

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