Pollard, other opponents again ask port to reconsider oil

By Aaron Corvin, Columbian port & economy reporter

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Opponents of building the Northwest's largest oil-by-rail terminal at the Port of Vancouver renewed their calls on the port Tuesday to re-open its lease for the project, approved in 2013, and to conduct a public hearing in light of new information about safety problems and other risks.

At least 18 people who oppose the oil terminal attended the regular public meeting of the port's elected, three-member Board of Commissioners. An estimated 11 of them, including Vancouver's former mayor Royce Pollard, spoke during the open forum portion of the board's agenda. They raised multiple concerns, including the cost of insuring against a major oil spill or oil-train calamity and the damages to human health from hydraulic fracturing, a means of oil and gas extraction.

They also pointed out safety concerns that have cropped up and explosive oil-train derailments that have occurred since commissioners unanimously approved the lease with Tesoro Corp. and Savage Companies.

Pollard, Vancouver's mayor for 14 years, blasted port commissioners Nancy Baker, Jerry Oliver and Brian Wolfe. In attempting to fulfill the port's mission of economic development, he said, the commissioners neglected to account for the safety and security "of citizens who elected you to office."

The commissioners "continue to disregard numerous oil train disasters," Pollard said, and they remain unwilling to publicly reconsider their lease decision. "You have lost the trust of your community," he said. He added, "You can get it back by holding a public hearing."

The comments by Pollard and others are just the latest broadside against the oil terminal, as opponents have maintained a steady presence at the port commission's twice-monthly regular meetings.

And port officials again made no indication they're willing to re-open the lease for discussion, saying the proposed oil terminal will be subject to additional public comments as it undergoes an environmental impact review by the Washington state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council. Citizens "deserve responses," Wolfe said, adding that the three port commissioners "do care." Wolfe said citizens won't get another public hearing on the lease from the port but will instead have ample opportunity to air their concerns and to get responses to their concerns during the evaluation council's review.

Todd Coleman, the port's executive director, said the evaluation council's adjudicative hearings are expected to begin later this fall or winter, after the oil terminal's draft environmental impact statement is released. During those legal proceedings, Coleman said, both sides will be heard on the proposed oil terminal and "those responses are going to come."

Eventually, the evaluation council will make a recommendation to the governor, who will approve or deny the oil terminal. Opponents may appeal to the state Supreme Court.

Tesoro and Savage want to build an oil-by-rail terminal receiving an average of 360,000 barrels of crude per day at the port. The oil would be stored in six above-ground tanks. Each tank would have a shell capacity of 380,000 barrels for a total storage capacity of 2.28 million barrels. The oil would be loaded onto ships bound primarily for West Coast refineries.

The companies would haul crude to the port from North Dakota's Bakken shale formation, where crude is extracted by hydraulic fracturing.

The port's lease with the companies, approved unanimously by commissioners, involves 42 acres and is worth at least $45 million over an initial 10 years.

But opponents questioned Tuesday whether commissioners rushed into the deal. Michael Piper, a Vancouver resident, said a lot of new information has come up since the lease was approved. As a result, he said, the port needs to "fully air what we've learned" and to discuss whether that information means the lease should be canceled.

Dorethea Simone, a Camas resident and registered nurse, said the American Nurses Association is on record as having grave concerns about the documented human health and environmental impacts of "fracked oil." She noted the organization also has said it will work with others in calling for a national moratorium on permits for unconventional oil and gas extraction.

Why, Simone asked, would commissioners want to bring such a volatile substance to Vancouver by train?