New developments have enlightened the debate over a proposed oil terminal at the Port of Vancouver, but they don't alter the conclusion that the terminal would be bad for the city.
At the crux of the issue remain the questions of whether or not a proposed terminal could coexist with a proposed waterfront development less than 2 miles upstream; whether carrying up to 360,000 barrels of crude per day by train along the Columbia River would be hazardous; and what would create the best outcome regarding the quality of life — both aesthetically and economically — for residents. Among the latest salvos in the debate:
• Barry Cain, lead spokesman for Columbia Waterfront LLC, which is hoping to build a $1.3 billion development on the former site of a Boise Cascade plant, said his project cannot coexist with an oil terminal. "There's no way all this is going to happen with that oil train going by," Cain told The Columbian's editorial board last week.
• Tesoro Corp., which along with Savage Companies has reached an agreement with the Port of Vancouver to build the oil terminal, was hit with a critical report regarding a 2010 explosion that killed seven workers at the company's refinery in Anacortes. "The refinery process safety culture required proof of danger rather than proof of effective safety implementation," read a report from the federal Chemical Safety Board. U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, a Democrat who represents the district that includes the refinery, said: "This long-overdue report tells us this accident was not only tragic, it was preventable. It is totally unacceptable that Tesoro management allowed nonstandard safety practices to become routine."
• Tesoro officials announced that they have begun replacing older tanker rail cars with safer, post-October 2011 cars, and that they are committed to having their entire fleet replaced before construction of a Vancouver terminal. Concerns have been raised the current tanker cars' design contributed to a devastating explosion in Lac Magantic, Quebec, as well as explosions following derailments in Alabama and North Dakota.
As The Columbian has urged editorially, all of these factors must be given due consideration by the state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council. The council is studying the impact of the possible terminal in Vancouver and, following its report, Gov. Jay Inslee will have the final say on whether the plan comes to fruition.
Given that, it's difficult to imagine how the benefits of the oil terminal would outweigh the negatives for local residents. Cain's assertion that the waterfront development will not go forward if the oil terminal is approved might or might not simply be posturing; he's a businessman trying to support his project. But if there is a remote chance that the oil terminal could scuttle the waterfront development, then the risk of building the terminal is too high. "We thought what everybody wanted here was a world-class development," Cain said. "We've all spent millions and we're ready to make it happen. But it's not realistic next to oil trains going by, knowing at any time one of them could become derailed and blow up."
In the end, the question remains one The Columbian recently posed editorially: "Will residents more effectively promote their city by telling outsiders, 'Hey, we have a new oil terminal and lots more trains going through the heart of the city,' or by saying, 'We have an amazing new waterfront development along the majestic Columbia River?'"
We think a waterfront development is more enticing, attractive, and beneficial to the city.