Our disaster saved others, mourners told

BELLINGHAM - The pipeline disaster that cut short three young lives here 10 years ago helped make communities across the country safer.

That was the repeated theme Wednesday, June 10, as about 100 people gathered at Maritime Heritage Park to remember that day and mourn those who died.

As a result of tougher safety rules and better pipeline inspections, no fewer than 85,000 potential trouble spots have been detected and repaired in the nation's fuel pipeline system, said Carl Weimer, executive director of the Pipeline Safety Trust and Whatcom County Councilman.

"That's 85,000 potential Bellinghams that were corrected," Weimer said, referring to the June 10, 1999, gasoline pipeline rupture in Whatcom Falls Park.

Jeff Wiese, associate administrator for pipeline safety with the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, said the horror of that day in Bellingham helped change the world for both regulators and pipeline operators.

"That rocked our world," Wiese said. "It set people back on their heels."

Robert Haddad, Washington, D.C.-based chief of the assessment and restoration division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said Bellingham has also set an example in its efforts to restore Whatcom Creek to a natural state in the wake of the disaster, after negotiating millions of dollars in financial damages from pipeline operators.

"In 10 years, this restoration work was designed, implemented and mostly finished," Haddad said. "I have cases that have not settled in 10 years."

Weimer and Mark Asmundson, who was mayor at the time of the disaster, praised state legislators and U.S. senators and congressmen for their work on pipeline regulations, but Weimer especially singled out the parents of the three who died. Weimer said they have been willing to continually revisit their personal tragedy in order to keep pipeline safety in the public eye.

"The real heroes have been the parents," Weimer said. "Thank you very much for 10 years of living this tragedy over and over again."

Everyone stood to applaud.

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