Vancouver City Council eyes bigger role in oil terminal permit bid

Councilors want formal part in state's process

By Stephanie Rice, Columbian Vancouver city government reporter

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The Vancouver City Council will take a more prominent role in the state-level permitting process of a proposal for an $110 million oil terminal at the Port of Vancouver.

How much more prominent wasn't explored Monday during a council update on the proposal by Tesoro Corp. and Savage Companies to build the Northwest's largest oil-by-rail facility.

Councilors indicated they will file a motion to intervene, which would give the city standing to make arguments directly to the state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council (EFSEC), introduce evidence, cross-examine witnesses and appeal the decision.

They stopped short of either expressing support or disapproval, however.

As with the concerns submitted to EFSEC last year as part of a scoping process to determine what should be included in an environmental review, councilors remained neutral.

The closest anyone got to stating an opinion about the proposed oil terminal was when Councilor Bart Hansen said he's not particularly pleased with what he's seen of the proposal.

"I would like to see us have the loudest possible voice on this project," Hansen said.

Kirkland attorney Susan Drummond, who was hired as an adviser to help the city negotiate the complicated EFSEC process, stressed it could take years before a decision is made.

For example, it took the proposed Whistling Ridge wind farm project in the Columbia River Gorge four years, including an appeal to the Washington Supreme Court, to receive a permit.

Drummond explained that the EFSEC makes a recommendation to the governor, who decides whether to issue a permit. However, appeals can be made to Thurston County Superior Court, then to the Washington Supreme Court. The process does allow for skipping the Court of Appeals, Drummond said.

She called the Tesoro-Savage proposal more complex than the wind farm, with trains running through multiple jurisdictions.

Drummond told councilors there's no hurry to file a motion to intervene. The EFSEC's three-stage process remains in the first stage and a draft environmental impact statement hasn't been issued.

The anti-oil terminal crowd, which includes developers behind a $1.3 billion Vancouver waterfront project, has been pushing the council to join the opposition. Port of Vancouver officials maintain that an oil terminal and waterfront development can coexist along the Columbia River.

Barry Cain, president of Tualatin, Ore.-based Gramor Development, has said there's zero chance the development project will happen if the oil terminal gets built.

Cain could not be immediately reached for comment on Monday.

Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt said Monday that the council has received a lot of input from residents, both for and against the oil terminal.

He said while people are putting pressure on the council, the decision will rest with Gov. Jay Inslee.

During the council's regular meeting Monday evening, they heard from oil terminal opponents who cited the risks of derailments and explosions, including Don Steinke.

The retired teacher said he knows the council won't make the decision but thanked the council for being engaged in the process.

He suggested they tell Inslee the potential harm of an oil terminal outweighs the benefits.

"How will he know if you don't tell him?" Steinke said.