EFSEC hearings end in Vancouver amid protests

Public comments wrap up five weeks of testimony regarding proposed oil terminal

By Dameon Pesanti, Columbian staff writer

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After five weeks of hearings, thousands of pages of exhibits and testimony from numerous experts, opponents and supporters of the proposed Vancouver Energy oil terminal made their closing statements on Friday in the same building where the deliberations began.

The Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council spent the morning listening to closing statements followed by an afternoon of public testimony at the Clark College Technical Center in east Vancouver.

The day marked a major milestone, but not the final step for what could be the country’s largest oil-by-rail terminal.

As proposed by Tesoro Corp. and Savage Cos. at the Port of Vancouver, the project would bring up to 360,000 barrels of oil to Vancouver on as many as four trains per day, each a mile-and-a-half long. The oil then would be shipped down the Columbia River to West Coast refineries.

During their final statements of the adjudication hearings, the risks, responsibility, safety and necessity were on the tongues of both project supporters and opponents of the terminal, but how they spoke of them varied significantly. The governor gets final say on the project after the evaluation council makes its recommendation, possibly this fall, on whether the project can proceed.

In his closing statement, Vancouver Energy’s attorney Jay Derr urged the council to “separate the facts from the hysteria” when considering the probability of an oil spill or disaster at the terminal.

“It’s not possible to do business for business or for industry to function without some element of risk. (The council) must recognize that,” Derr said.

He urged the council to evaluate the risk of the terminal by separating it from the rail operations that would deliver the crude oil, which he said is under the jurisdiction of the federal government.

David Bartz, attorney for the Port of Vancouver, said the port has worked hard to improve its rail safety by making several infrastructure investments and limiting train speeds on its property. Bartz emphasized the tankers carrying oil from the terminal would be the same size as those already visiting the port and not the supertankers some have suggested.

“The Port of Vancouver asks the council to help the port maintain the structures and practices that enable the port to provide significant benefits to the local community the state and to the region,” he said.

Seven attorneys representing city, state, tribal and environmental groups spoke out against the terminal.

Assistant State Attorney General Matthew Kernutt urged the evaluation council to deny the terminal, just as Attorney General Bob Ferguson did publicly on Thursday. Kernutt served as Counsel for the Environment, an independent representative for the public during the hearing.

Kurnutt said although the risk associated with the terminal are acceptable to Vancouver Energy, that doesn’t mean they should be acceptable to the state.

“The potential consequences related to this terminal are massive,” he said. “This terminal will not serve Washington’s energy needs and provides very little benefit to Washington citizens.”

Representing the city of Vancouver, attorney Bronson Potter said the city is rejecting a project that would bring over $100 million in improvements to the port and over 100 jobs because the risks are too great.

“It’s nearly impossible to attack an oil train fire. It’s never been done,” he said.

Potter attacked Vancouver Energy’s ability to insure the terminal and accused it of being a shell company that would financially protect Tesoro and Savage in the event of a oil train disaster — potentially leaving the public paying to clean up an accident.

“The applicant is an empty Delaware (limited liability corporation). It has no employees, no one speaks directly for this entity,” he said.

During the lunch break, dozens of fossil fuel protestors gathered on the lawn to watch hazmat suit-clad demonstrators scrub oil from the fur of stuffed animals. The move was a jab at Vancouver Energy’s expert witnesses who testified earlier in the hearings that a fishery closure resulting from an oil spill could be beneficial to fish and that oil spills create jobs.

The second half of the day featured public comment from members of the public that opposed and supported the terminal.

The adjudication hearing process is now completed, but involved parties will have until late August to submit final arguments and closing briefs to the council.

After further document review, the evaluation council will make a recommendation to the governor to deny the terminal, approve it with conditions or approve it outright. Their recommendation is expected near the end of the year, marking three and a half years since the terminal was proposed.

The ultimate fate of the terminal lies with the governor, who is expected to decide this year or early next.