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Port of Vancouver commissioners on Tuesday unanimously approved leasing 42 acres for a controversial oil terminal, despite overwhelming public testimony against the plan by Tesoro Corp. and Savage Companies to build what would be the largest such facility in the Pacific Northwest.
Commissioner Brian Wolfe said the lease — worth $45 million to the port over an initial 10 years — addresses public safety concerns. Port managers will stay on top of Tesoro and Savage like “white on rice” to ensure the project is “done right,” Wolfe said.
Commissioner Nancy Baker said if the port doesn’t build the infrastructure to handle oil, then “someone else is going to do it. That’s the way the world works.” The project will generate family-wage jobs, said Commissioner Jerry Oliver, and help the U.S. wean itself off foreign oil. “We’re not adding to global warming,” he said. “We’re replacing oil (that’s) already being consumed.”
The commissioners’ decision was a first step in determining whether the oil terminal — which would handle up to 380,000 barrels of crude per day from the Bakken oil shale formation in North Dakota — will get built. That’s because the Tesoro-Savage proposal must undergo an examination by the state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council, which would make a recommendation to Gov. Jay Inslee, who has the final say.
David Postman, a spokesman for Inslee, said Tuesday the governor isn’t going to comment on the oil facility proposal now “prior to that (energy facility siting) process working its way up.”
Tesoro and Savage hope to launch the terminal in 2014.
Dan Serres, conservation director for Columbia Riverkeeper, which opposes the oil terminal, said Tuesday the pressure is now on the council and the governor “to do a better job” than commissioners of vetting the oil terminal.
The notion the oil terminal won’t exacerbate global warming is “absurd,” Serres said. Columbia Riverkeeper estimates the combustion of oil moved through the planned Tesoro-Savage terminal would result in about 59.64 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually, or the equivalent greenhouse gas pollution of roughly 12 million cars.
With their action Tuesday, port commissioners underscored the fact that Vancouver has become an epicenter of global energy market gyrations and national environmental concerns.
Curt Dowd, executive vice president of Savage, told commissioners the companies “hope to earn the trust” of the community. Moments after the commissioners’ decision, opponents issued a news release saying they’ll turn out hundreds of people in Vancouver this Saturday as part of a national series of protests against building fossil-fuel infrastructure in the Northwest.
'A competitive environment’
Commissioners approved the Tesoro-Savage lease after about an hour of testimony and discussion. Four people testified against the oil facility Tuesday. Melinda Bell of Vancouver, whose home overlooks the BNSF Railway yard, said the oil terminal will worsen global warming.
Six people urged commissioners to move forward, including Tim Schauer, president and CEO of MacKay Sposito, a Vancouver engineering firm. “This is a competitive environment,” said Schauer, a member of the Columbia River Economic Development Council, and he said he wants to see the community grow.
Tuesday’s hearing came on the heels of a Monday night workshop that gave commissioners an opportunity to broadly review potential elements of a lease. The workshop, packed with opponents, lasted for more than two hours. About 40 people spoke, and they were unified in their opposition to the proposed oil-handling operation, according to Oliver.
Critics raised numerous concerns, including the potential release of toxics into the air and the increased risk of oil spills in the Columbia River Gorge, which oil trains would travel through on BNSF Railway tracks to Vancouver.
Opponents also held a vigil outside port offices Monday night honoring the victims of a runaway oil train that exploded and leveled much of a small Quebec town on July 6.
On Tuesday, Terry Finn, director of government affairs for BNSF Railway, said roughly 99 percent of hazardous cargo arrives safely and on time. “We’re very good at it,” he said.
Wolfe said the lease requires the port and Tesoro and Savage to mutually agree on comprehensive safety plans before the companies ever get to launch their operation. The companies could “put a lot of money in the ground,” Wolfe said, but if they fail to produce adequate safety plans, they won’t get to launch their operation.
Theresa Wagner, the port’s communications manager, declined Tuesday to provide The Columbian with a copy of the lease, saying the newspaper must first submit a formal public records request, which would undergo a legal review.
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