State agency could take over review of Grays Harbor oil terminal proposals

Council votes to look into whether it is responsible for decision

By Aaron Corvin, November 21, 2014, The Columbian

The state agency that makes the call on major energy projects will consider whether to take over the impact review and permit decisions of two proposed oil-by-rail operations in Grays Harbor County.

 

The Washington Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council voted unanimously Friday, with one abstention, to launch proceedings over whether it should assume control over the fate of the proposed Westway and Imperium oil terminals. By some estimates, the combined projects could move at least 130,000 barrels of crude per day in Grays Harbor, the fourth-largest estuary in the United States.

 

The Westway and Imperium plans have pitted certain business interests, which promise jobs, against environmental and commercial fishing groups that point to potential ecological damage.

 

The council’s decision was in response to a petition filed by Earthjustice on behalf of the Quinault Indian Nation. The petition, citing court cases, tribal fishing rights, and facets of the Westway and Imperium proposals, asks the council to claim jurisdiction over the projects. There are “sufficient questions raised in the petition that we are not able to examine in detail without further testimony,” said council member Liz Green-Taylor, a manager with the state’s Department of Commerce. “I definitely would like to hear from the interested parties.”

 

The council will consider written, and possibly oral, arguments over the petition in a process that could stretch to early February.

 

In the petition filed Oct. 31, Kristen Boyles, an attorney with Earthjustice in Seattle, said a council-led review would provide a more rigorous study, more opportunity for public comments, and the appointment of an assistant attorney general to represent the environment. Because the Westway and Imperium projects are being pursued at the same time in nearby locations, Boyles wrote, “it is important that a state-wide agency consider the aggregate effects of the increased rail and marine traffic and likelihood of oil spills.”

 

Paul Queary, a spokesman for Westway and Imperium — whose proposals both involve rail and marine operations to receive and ship oil — said in an email to The Columbian that “neither Westway nor Imperium concede that the council has jurisdiction.” The state Department of Ecology and the city of Hoquiam, which are now analyzing the companies’ proposals, are conducting an environmental impact study that “will consider and address all the relevant issues,” Queary said.

 

If the council assumes control of the Westway and Imperium evaluations, it would mean Ecology and Hoquiam would no longer have authority over building permits. Instead, the council would oversee the review and ultimately make a recommendation to Washington’s governor.

 

That’s what’s happening in Vancouver, where Tesoro Corp. and Savage Cos. want to build an oil-by-rail terminal receiving an average 360,000 barrels of crude per day at the Port of Vancouver. The siting council has been reviewing the Tesoro-Savage proposal for more than a year. Eventually, it’s expected to advise Gov. Jay Inslee, who would approve or deny the project. Opponents may appeal the governor’s decision to the state Supreme Court.

 

Although the Westway and Imperium proposals are more than 130 miles northwest of Vancouver, they’ve prompted local governments in Clark County to raise public safety and other concerns. For example, in a letter to the state Ecology department and the city of Hoquiam, Vancouver City Manager Eric Holmes wrote that the Westway and Imperium proposals will “result in a significant increase in the amount of petroleum products transported through Vancouver by rail.”

 

The energy projects over which the siting council has jurisdiction include facilities large enough to receive more than an average of 50,000 barrels of crude per day.

 

Imperium Terminal Services, which runs a biodiesel fuel operation, seeks to also receive, store and ship oil and other liquid bulk materials. Westway wants to add oil transfer operations to its methanol storage facility at the Port of Grays Harbor’s Terminal 1. Imperium’s current operation is just west of Westway’s existing terminal.

 

In the petition, Boyles argues that Imperium’s “admitted capacity is 78,000 barrels per day,” well more than enough to trigger review by the siting council. While Westway “claims it plans to receive only an average of 48,918 barrels per day,” Boyles contends, the company’s “actual daily capacity is at least 52,000 barrels a day, using conservative numbers.”

 

What’s more, she argues, the Westway and Imperium plans amount to the construction of new crude oil storage facilities — not expansions of existing facilities — which also hands jurisdiction to the siting council.

 

In April 2013, Boyles notes, siting council staff told Westway and Imperium that they’d decided the council doesn’t have jurisdiction over the companies’ proposals. But the siting council “itself has made no formal decision on the proposals,” according to Boyles, and the Westway proposal “has changed significantly” since April 2013.

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