Oil terminal foes granted full voice in review

By Eric Florip, March 27, 2015, The Columbian

The state panel reviewing a proposed oil terminal in Vancouver will allow more than a dozen parties to take part in the upcoming adjudication process surrounding the controversial project.


The Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council this week formally granted “intervenor” status to a host of groups that have opposed or expressed concerns about the proposal by Tesoro Corp. and Savage Companies, which would build the nation’s largest oil-by-rail terminal at the Port of Vancouver. EFSEC’s order allows those groups to participate “without condition or restriction” — a rejection of an earlier request by Tesoro-Savage to place limits on their participation.


The decision allows cities, environmental groups, Native American tribes and others to have a say in the judicial trial that will help determine the oil terminal’s fate. Some hail from far outside Vancouver: The list of intervenors includes advocacy group Spokane Riverkeeper and the city of Spokane, which sits along the rail route that would deliver millions of gallons of crude oil to Vancouver each day.


That route also includes the Columbia River Gorge.


“We’re pleased with the (EFSEC) decision,” said Nathan Baker, staff attorney for Friends of the Columbia Gorge, which is among the groups that will have a voice in the process. “We’ve always been very concerned about this project, and we intend to participate fully in the adjudication.”


Adjudication hearings will likely be scheduled for later this year, said EFSEC spokeswoman Amanda Maxwell. Locations will include Vancouver; whether they venture to other parts of the state will be up to the council, she said. In 2013, during an earlier phase in the review, EFSEC held a public hearing on the Vancouver terminal in the Spokane area.


The project’s draft environmental impact statement, meanwhile, is due out later this spring, Maxwell said. In addition to triggering another round of public comment, the sweeping document will also shape the upcoming adjudication process.


Fifteen groups filed to intervene in this latest stage of the review:


  • Earthjustice, on behalf of the following eight groups: Columbia Riverkeeper, Climate Solutions, ForestEthics, Friends of the Columbia Gorge, Vancouver’s Fruit Valley Neighborhood Association, Sierra Club, Spokane Riverkeeper and Washington Environmental Council.


  • The city of Washougal.


  • The city of Spokane.


  • The Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission.


  • Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation.


  • Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation.


  • Columbia Waterfront LLC, the company proposing a $1.3 billion residential-commercial redevelopment of Vancouver’s waterfront.


  • The International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 4 in Vancouver.


Because the proposal is located in Vancouver, the city did not have to file a petition to intervene, but will be included in the process. The city opposes the project.


Tesoro and Savage want to build a terminal capable of handling an average of 360,000 barrels of crude per day, or about four oil trains daily. The facility would receive oil by rail, then transfer it to marine vessels en route to other West Coast locations.


The project has drawn strong resistance from opponents who cite the risk of oil spills or derailments as the movement of crude by rail continues its sharp rise. After virtually no crude oil traveled by train in Washington in 2011, the state’s railroads now carry millions of gallons of crude each year. (A barrel of oil is equal to 42 gallons.)


The companies behind the terminal have touted its economic benefit to the region, and say the project would reduce dependence on foreign oil.


EFSEC will eventually make a recommendation to Gov. Jay Inslee, who will then make a decision on the project.


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