Vancouver waterfront developer slams oil terminal plan

'The future of vancouver is at stake,' Cain says

By Aaron Corvin, Columbian port & economy reporter

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Barry Cain is no friend of the proposal to build the Northwest's largest oil-handling facility at the Port of Vancouver.

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Now the real estate developer charged with remaking Vancouver's waterfront has expanded on his earlier public misgivings about the project's environmental risks and its impacts on downtown development, raising a multitude of new worries. Those new concerns include what he calls "information gaps" in the permit-application submitted by Tesoro Corp. and Savage Companies and in the lease the port approved with the companies.

Cain spells out his concerns in a 54-page letter to the Washington State Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council in which he asks for the most extensive environmental-impact review available. Cain's letter is among more than 31,000 public comments EFSEC received as it mulls what should and should not be included in an environmental examination of the proposed oil-by-rail operation.

Tesoro and Savage want to build a $110 million facility capable of handling as much as 380,000 barrels of crude oil per day for eventual conversion into transportation fuels. Cain's waterfront project, which will take advantage of infrastructure investments by the city and the Port of Vancouver, is less than two miles east of the oil terminal and next to rail lines that would carry oil trains headed for the port.

Cain, president of Gramor Development — a member, along with local investors, of Columbia Waterfront LLC — seeks to construct a $1.3 billion mixed-use redevelopment of the former Boise Cascade mill site.

The situation pits two megaprojects, each with sharply contrasting visions of Vancouver's future, against each other as questions fly about the sustainability of the Tesoro-Savage plan and about the viability of the waterfront enterprise.

In his Dec. 18 letter to EFSEC, Cain blasts the Tesoro-Savage proposal as a short-sighted venture that detracts from the long-term economic benefits of the waterfront project. "It is not hyperbole to state that the future of Vancouver is at stake," he wrote. "A thorough environmental review is needed to ensure that the long-term benefits of an urban, sustainable waterfront community connecting downtown Vancouver to the Columbia River are not sacrificed for short-term profits, temporary jobs, and a short-term and potentially illusory boost in tax revenues."

Tesoro and Savage both declined through a spokeswoman to respond to Cain's remarks.

Matthew Gardner, principal of Seattle-based Gardner Economics, a land use, real estate and economic advisory firm, said Cain's concerns are real. Increased train traffic near residences, along with other impacts associated with industrial operations, will "certainly have a negative impact" on the viability of any residential development, Gardner said.

"It's not a red herring," he said of Cain's worries. "There will be consequences." A big question in any environmental-review process, Gardner said, is whether it's possible to alleviate the potential negative impacts of a given project.

Tesoro and Savage, which tout new jobs, tax revenues and U.S. energy independence as benefits, submitted their application to build the oil terminal on Aug. 29. The state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council is expected to extensively inspect their proposal through 2014. Gov. Jay Inslee has the final say over whether the oil terminal gets built.

'A hard look'

Cain's waterfront project encompasses more than 32 acres, including 28 acres owned by Columbia Waterfront LLC.

His plan calls for up to 3,300 residential units; more than 800,000 square feet of office space; 250,000 square feet of retail space, including restaurants and specialty shops, and a 200-unit hotel.

Cain's letter asks EFSEC to examine everything from the oil-terminal's potential noise, odor, visual and toxic-air impacts to a variety of public service, health and safety issues, including the oil facility's effects on emergency services.

He also seeks the broadest possible examination, as evidenced by his request that EFSEC apply to the oil terminal the same review that the state Department of Ecology is giving to the Gateway Pacific Terminal coal-export proposal in Whatcom County.

Such an assessment should account for impacts on the waterfront, Vancouver and Clark County, according to Cain, including rail and water traffic impacts; the risk of oil spills; a detailed human-health investigation and "an evaluation of greenhouse gas emissions from terminal operations, and rail and vessel traffic."

Cain turns his attention to the recent increase in oil-train accidents and explosions, noting the July 6 disaster in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, in which 47 people were killed and the town was leveled.

Ten of the "22 city blocks comprising The Waterfront will be within 100 feet of both the BNSF main line and the Port of Vancouver spur line," Cain wrote. He also says that "much of the oil will likely be sourced from the Bakken formation (in North Dakota), the source of the oil which exploded in devastating fashion in Lac-Megantic."

Cain says the application by Tesoro and Savage "indicates oil will initially come by train from 'Midwest oil fields,' most likely from the Bakken." However, Cain says, the companies don't "identify the heavier crude oils proposed for transport and storage in Phase 2 of the project."

What's more, Cain says, the companies indicate "that crude oil will be shipped 'primarily,' but not exclusively, to West Coast refineries." Since U.S.-sourced crude oil "generally cannot be legally shipped overseas," Cain says, "the implication is that some of the oil shipped from the (Tesoro-Savage) facility would likely be of Canadian origin and destined for foreign markets."

As to the lease the companies signed with the port — involving 42 acres and worth at least $45 million to the port over an initial 10 years — Cain says publicly available copies of it "contain significant redacting that further inhibits a full assessment of the (oil-terminal) proposal's impacts."

Cain cites several examples of censored information in the lease, including giving the companies "the option of developing a second facility if certain redacted benchmarks are met."

In addition to raising environmental, lease and other issues, Cain asks EFSEC to assess the economic impacts of the oil terminal on the waterfront. He also requests the agency directly compare the "significant" economic development benefits the waterfront project will generate for Clark County with the "minimal" economic benefits achieved by the proposed oil terminal.

Cain's request that the environmental-impact review of the oil terminal include economic assessments is not unusual, according to Gardner, the Seattle land-use expert.

In some cases, he said, regulators will choose to assess a project's potential economic-development impacts as part of an overall inspection of land, air, water and other issues.

'Not speculative'

In his letter, Cain argues the waterfront project will lead to far greater economic development benefits than the oil terminal. He also says the oil terminal will undercut the waterfront project, as well as development of Vancouver's downtown area.

Cain cites two analyses, included with his letter, by Portland-based consultant Johnson Economics. "The economic impact of The Waterfront project on the local economy dwarfs that of" the oil terminal plan, Cain wrote. For example, construction at the waterfront site "will generate over 4,580 direct jobs, paying an estimated $244 million in labor income, and contributing $318 million in value-added output," according to Cain. He added that "even more importantly, ongoing business activity at the completed" waterfront project "is estimated to generate 1,364 direct jobs, contributing $64.8 million in annual labor income, and $59.6 million in value-added output to the Clark County economy."

By contrast, Cain argues, the proposed oil terminal would result in 2,100 fewer waterfront construction jobs, 613 fewer permanent jobs and "negatively impact achievable pricing, the pace of absorption and acceptable developer returns" on the waterfront project. Moreover, he says, the oil facility would increase "perceived development risk" in Vancouver's downtown area and would result in a "$98.3 million reduction in new construction investment, a 341,000 square feet reduction in commercial space, and a net change of $138.1 million reduction in real market value."

Cain isn't the only critic of the oil terminal. Port commissioners approved the oil-facility lease despite public testimony overwhelmingly against it. Organized opposition, including environmentalists and local labor officials, remains fierce. And the city of Vancouver also has submitted its concerns to EFSEC.

In an email to The Columbian on Tuesday, Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt said the waterfront project is "pre-eminent to the future of all of (Southwest) Washington" and serves as a prime example of a private-public partnership supported on city, state and federal levels.

Leavitt noted the detailed inventory of concerns the city sent to EFSEC and said the city "intends to remain vigilant and actively engaged in this state permitting process to insure that the interests of our citizens are best represented."

In his letter to EFSEC, Cain says "there may be no reasonable mitigation measures available to effectively address all impacts." He also says that development of the waterfront site "is not speculative or remote."

A master plan for the site is in place and permitting proceeds, according to Cain. Meanwhile, "on-site road building" is slated to begin this summer, paid for by state grant funds, investments by the city of Vancouver and developer contributions.

And, Cain adds, "building construction will begin in 2015."