Oil terminal foes say it with song

Testimony takes unusual turns at EFSEC hearing for disputed project’s stormwater permit

By Dameon Pesanti, Columbian staff writer

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During the four years people have been arguing over the controversial Vancouver Energy oil terminal in public meetings they’ve never resorted to singing and shouting — until Tuesday.

In total, 92 people signed up for what was their last opportunity to speak on the record about the project before it goes before the governor for a decision.

Tuesday’s hearing at Clark College at Columbia Tech Center was a familiar rendition of arguments pro and con. But unlike previous hearings, which featured barbs thrown between supporters and opponents, it included anti-terminal testimonies sung a cappella — with occasional crowd accompaniment — and a man who shouted his statement into the public record.

While speakers addressed the permit itself, the majority also used it as a segue into the larger merits or dangers of the project, which would include crude oil storage and handling facilities.

The Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council, which is evaluating the $210 million terminal, held the hearing on the project’s draft National Pollution Discharge Elimination System Industrial Stormwater Permit.

The industrial stormwater permit is a state-administered federal permit required under the Clean Water Act for industrial, commercial or municipal facilities that discharge wastewater or stormwater into waters of the United States. It controls pollution by identifying and setting limits on the quantities of materials that may be released into a waterway and the monitoring process required.

Jeff Hymas, a spokesman for Vancouver Energy, wrote in an email that the company is “confident the terminal’s design and plans for construction and operations will meet or exceed all relevant water quality standards and requirements. We are committed to building and operating the proposed terminal in a safe and environmentally responsible way.”

Project supporters, which included several speakers from local trade unions, echoed his statements, arguing the project would be built in an environmentally conscious way and bring much-needed jobs to the region.

However, project opponents argued the terminal’s environmental risks far outweigh any benefits it might bring to the state.

“The real sticking point here today is whether or not there will be a measurable change on the quality of water entering the Columbia River,” said Dan Serres, conservation director for Columbia Riverkeeper. “We think there is.”

If approved, the terminal would handle an average of 360,000 barrels of oil per day. (A barrel of oil is 42 gallons.) The oil would be shipped by rail from the Midwest and be stored at the Port of Vancouver. It would then be transferred to marine vessels in the Columbia River and shipped to refineries.

Evaluation council spokeswoman Amanda Maxwell said the facilities council will soon enter the decision-making phase. That includes writing the adjudicative order — the document that wraps up the five weeks of testimony and exhibits from last summer — and finishing the project’s final environmental impact statement, which will be released to the public five days before the staff recommendation goes to the governor.

If the council recommends the project be approved, the permits will become part of the project site certification and part of the recommendation to the governor.

Gov. Jay Inslee will have 60 days to make a decision on the project’s fate after the council is finished.

Last week the evaluation council granted a seventh deadline extension, pushing the date by which the council has to have a recommendation to the governor to Nov. 30.

Shortly after the announcement, Vancouver Energy spokesman Hymas told The Columbian the company believes the council “has the resources to complete the process in the time frame outlined in the approved extension.”