Editorial Staff, February 16, 2014, The Columbian
Over the past several months, Vancouver’s political leaders have tried their best to be, well, politicians. City leaders have attempted to straddle the metaphorical fence that has accompanied a proposal to build an oil terminal at the Port of Vancouver, and they have done a good job of keeping their balance. But as debate intensifies over the Tesoro-Savage facility that would bring oil trains through the heart of the city, and as conflict arises between that plan and a proposed nearby waterfront development, and as the state studies the environmental impact of the would-be terminal … it is time for the city to weigh in on the matter.
In July, representatives from Tesoro-Savage and from the port met with Mayor Tim Leavitt, who said, the “purpose of the meeting was to meet key project proponent staff and to receive a brief introduction to the project.”
In August, Leavitt noted that while ports and oil bring jobs, condos and waterfront parks create the image of vitality that Vancouver’s leaders long have craved. “We’ll weigh in during the environmental review process,” he said. “But we are not the organization that issues the lease or gives the final ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the project. That’s the state.”
This approach is understandable. The Port of Vancouver is a vital economic engine, and city officials are correct to employ due diligence while attempting to avoid alienating entities that offer long-term benefits to the area. But it’s time to get off the fence. As Barry Cain, leader of the proposed waterfront development, recently told The Columbian’s editorial board, input from the city could help influence how state regulators view the proposed oil terminal.
Because of that, city council members are to be applauded for their decision last week to take a more prominent role in the discussion.
Without indicating whether they lean one particular way regarding the oil terminal, officials declared that they will file a motion to intervene, which would give the city standing to make arguments directly to the state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council, introduce evidence, cross-examine witnesses, and appeal the eventual decision. EFSEC will undertake an evaluation process lasting a year or more and deliver a report to Gov. Jay Inslee, who will have the final say on the project.
In talking about the city’s role in the process, Cain said, “We are at the point where the city needs to stop straddling.” Therein lies the problem. The permitting process for the oil terminal could take years, but the waterfront developers deserve answers sooner rather than later. City officials must start formulating an opinion on the projects rather than waiting until the end stage of the process.
Editorially, The Columbian has written that the oil terminal would be a bad idea for Vancouver. We believe it does, indeed, come down to a choice between the waterfront development and the oil terminal, and the inherent danger presented by crude-bearing trains and the impact on the waterfront would outweigh the benefits provided by the terminal.
Whether or not city officials come to agree with this view — we believe careful consideration would draw them to the same conclusion — it is crucial for them to become involved in the process. The oil terminal could be a city-altering proposition that has a long-lasting effect on the area.
Since the proposal came to light last year, city officials have worked to remain on the sidelines and support both teams. It’s time for them to choose a side and get in the game.