In Our View: Stopping the Oil Terminal

Vancouver City Council should formally adopt its opposition to proposed project

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After months of limbering up, members of the Vancouver City Council have taken a swing at a proposed oil terminal at the Port of Vancouver — and smacked one out of the park. Councilors have prepared a draft resolution weighing in on the deal reached last year between port officials and Tesoro Corp. and Savage Companies. They have opposed the proposal in no uncertain terms and have urged government entities that have a say in the matter to rule against it.

The draft resolution will be discussed by the council during a workshop Monday and will receive a public hearing on June 2; council members are expected to vote on the resolution June 16. And while the city has no official decision-making capacity regarding the oil terminal — which would handle up to 380,000 barrels of crude oil per day, arriving by train from the Bakken formation in North Dakota — it has effectively distilled the arguments against the idea. Among the items included in the resolution’s 37 “whereas” statements:

• “Human error, acts of nature and unforeseen disasters are beyond the control of measures proposed for the Vancouver oil terminal project and could have devastating effects on the entire community.”

• There have been several well-documented derailments and explosions of trains carrying Bakken crude, including one in Quebec that killed 47 people.

• The city has invested heavily in a proposed Columbia Waterfront Development, a $1.3 billion project that would result in commercial, residential, and recreational outlets along the banks of the Columbia River — just upriver from the terminal site and in the shadow of the rail tracks used by oil trains.

Each of these is an important aspect deserving of consideration, but the most valid argument from city officials is this: “Whereas the City has a paramount interest in the health, safety and welfare of its citizens and believes that the development of the proposed Tesoro Savage crude by rail oil terminal is contrary to the health, safety and welfare of its citizens and business community.”

These talking points have been presented previously by some on the city council and by many members of the public. But formal adoption of the resolution by council members (four of the seven members have expressed opposition to the terminal) would go a long way toward stopping it in its tracks. The state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council is reviewing the proposal and will make a recommendation to Gov. Jay Inslee, who will have the final say regarding approval. The city council’s resolution urges both EFSEC and the governor to decline certification of the terminal, and it also urges federal and state lawmakers to tighten regulations regarding the transportation of crude oil.

Most intriguingly, council members request that the Port of Vancouver terminate its lease with Tesoro and Savage. The ability of port officials to do that remains open to interpretation — in part because the lease released to The Columbian under a public-records request contains heavily redacted portions. It is difficult to assess the legal obligations of the port under such a veil of secrecy, which is another reason to question the terminal proposal. If Tesoro and Savage cannot trust the public to know the details, it’s unlikely the public will trust the companies to act in the best interest of the community.

The reasons for opposing the oil terminal are sound and well-considered, having undergone months of scrutiny and discussion. The Vancouver City Council would be wise to formally adopt its opposition.