Former siting panel chair joins waterfront project

He says Vancouver should express opposition to oil terminal

By Aaron Corvin, Columbian port & economy reporter

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The former chairman of the state agency that's reviewing a proposed oil terminal in Vancouver has been hired by the developer who wants to rejuvenate the city's waterfront to advise him about the agency's permitting process.

Jim Luce, chairman of the state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council from 2001 until 2013, said Monday he's a consultant to Columbia Waterfront LLC, which includes developer Barry Cain and local investors, who want to conduct a $1.3 billion commercial/residential redevelopment of the city's waterfront.

Cain, president of Tualatin, Ore.-based Gramor Development, insists the waterfront project won't go forward if the oil-by-rail transfer terminal — which would be built less than two miles west of the city's waterfront — wins approval.

"I told Mr. Cain I will be helpful in any way in explaining to him and others how the EFSEC process works and why it's important and critical for people, if they feel strongly about this (oil terminal) project, to oppose it," Luce said in a phone interview with The Columbian.

The state's environmental review process, while complex and time-consuming, is critical to determining whether a proposal by Tesoro Corp. and Savage Companies to build a $110 million oil terminal at the Port of Vancouver will go forward. Gov. Jay Inslee will make the final decision, based on EFSEC's recommendation.

Tesoro and Savage have invested heavily in the project and hope to win a positive recommendation from EFSEC. Luce's involvement provides Cain, and other opponents of the oil terminal, the voice of a person who understands the ins and outs of EFSEC's thicket of rules and procedures.

Tesoro and Savage say Vancouver can have both a vibrant waterfront and the additional economic development the oil terminal would generate. A majority of the Vancouver City Council told The Columbian in a story published Monday that they are concerned about safety issues although none have come out against the Tesoro-Savage proposal. A spokesperson for the companies could not be reached for comment Monday.

The port also has said the oil terminal and waterfront projects can coexist, boosting both the city's livability and supporting industrial development.

Based on his knowledge of EFSEC, Luce said that those who want to have influence during EFSEC's hearings must intervene and choose a position — for or against a project — early on in the process.

Luce said he would "strongly urge the city" to oppose the oil terminal.

The Vancouver City Council has indicated it will enter into the EFSEC process as an intervenor, which will allow the city to present evidence and witnesses during the permitting process. And the city has raised many safety and other concerns to EFSEC about the proposed oil terminal. But city officials also have said they need more information before they commit to a position on it.

"Credit to Barry Cain for hiring somebody who is well-versed in the (EFSEC) process," Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt said Monday. "We have folks on both sides that are lobbying us" to take a position on the Tesoro-Savage proposal, Leavitt said. However, "from my perspective," he said, "it's premature to do that, given the extent and nature of this process, given that we don't have all the details in front of us."

Luce, an attorney and longtime Vancouver resident, said he was hired by Cain about a monthandahalf ago. Luce is a consultant to Cain through his private company, Pasadena Way Consulting LLC, which was incorporated Jan. 7, according to state public records.

Luce said he's opposed to the proposed oil terminal "under any circumstance, whether I was advising Mr. Cain or not." He said he doesn't see the waterfront project, with its inclusion of a "major park" and its vision of strong downtown development, "being compatible with the oil terminal."

If the oil terminal moves forward, Cain said, the public investment in the waterfront, the waterfront project's economic benefits — including job creation and the benefits to the greater downtown area — will be lost.

Luce said there are three levels of participation when it comes to EFSEC: taking no action; becoming an intervenor so "you get all the papers," including updates of a proposed project; and a third level, which is to intervene "and state your position, because by doing so you will have a real seat at the table."

Tesoro and Savage submitted on Aug. 29 an application to build a facility to store and move oil for eventual conversion into transportation fuels. An environmental impact review of the companies' proposal by EFSEC is expected to take longer than a year. Inslee has the final say over whether the project gets built.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect corrections. The site of the proposed oil terminal is less than two miles west of the waterfront development. Also, Luce is working for Columbia Waterfront LLC, which includes Cain and local investors.