Wolfe says he won’t move to reduce Orange’s influence at port

Outgoing commissioner says won’t take action to extend Vancouver Energy lease

By Dameon Pesanti, Columbian staff writer

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Outgoing Port of Vancouver District 1 Commissioner Brian Wolfe said he won’t take any actions that might extend Vancouver Energy lease’s before his term is finished, easing fears that the board would move to block the influence of Commissioner-elect Don Orange.

Wolfe’s is the swing vote between District 3 Commissioner Jerry Oliver, who is a fervent supporter of the proposed oil terminal, and District 2 Commissioner Eric LaBrant, who is firmly against it.

“My present thinking is I won’t side with Mr. Oliver to eliminate the termination clause in the lease,” he said. “And my thinking today is I wouldn’t side with Mr. LaBrant to terminate the lease now or before the end of the year.”

Wolfe previously said he never voted to end the lease because he felt Vancouver Energy and its supporters were entitled to a completed evaluation process by the state.

That review by the Washington Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council is in its fourth year. The council, known by its acronym EFSEC, is expected to make a recommendation whether to allow the project by the end of the year. Gov. Jay Inslee will then have 60 days to approve or deny the project.

“To me, the process is done,” Wolfe said. “The election is part of the process.”

Lease denial expected

Wolfe, who decided not to run for re-election, will be replaced by Orange, who campaigned to end the lease between the Port of Vancouver and Vancouver Energy.

Orange’s ascension to power almost certainly means he and LaBrant will move to terminate the lease. 

On Friday, Orange said that once he’s in office, he plans to follow through with his campaign promise but in a way that doesn’t have legal repercussions.

“We’re going to follow the processes that are legal to do what’s right for the port,” Orange said. “I think the people spoke pretty loudly. This thing didn’t have anything to do with the people in the race — it was about the project.”

The company proposes to build a $210 million terminal that would handle an average of 360,000 barrels of crude oil per day, carried by unit trains from the Bakken formation in Montana and North Dakota and stored and shipped out of the port by water, bound for oil refineries along the West Coast.

The company promises it will bring more than 1,000 direct, indirect and induced jobs, and pump as much as $2 billion into the local and regional economy.

Critics say the risks to the environment and human health outweigh the benefits. Many have campaigned for the port to break the agreement since its inception.

In 2015 LaBrant, then a political newcomer, rode that wave of opposition into office.

To many, the election between Orange and his opponent, Kris Greene, who received most of his financial backing from Vancouver Energy and its allies, was a referendum on the terminal itself.

Orange won with 64.64 percent of the popular vote to defeat Greene. Greene conceded the election to Orange in an online statement he posted Thursday night.

‘The process is done’

Wolfe has resisted LaBrant’s and Oliver’s attempt to kill or prolong the lease at previous meetings and has frequently decried the way in which the project has cleaved the community into combative factions.

During a March 7 port commission meeting, LaBrant made a motion to end the lease, which Wolfe seconded for the purpose of discussion. After five hours of testimony, it was voted down by Oliver and Wolfe.

At the commission’s Sept. 12 meeting, LaBrant made another motion to end the lease, but that effort died without enough support to bring it up for an official vote. During that same meeting, Oliver made a motion to extend the lease until 2021. Wolfe seconded it to allow public discussion but he and LaBrant ultimately voted against it.

Wolfe  said he doesn’t want to be the deciding vote to cancel the lease, saying that right belongs to Orange, who will be sworn into office in January.

The port’s lease with Vancouver Energy automatically renews every three months, but contains a clause that allows either party to walk away if they are displeased with the terminal’s progress through the evaluation and permitting process.

The current lease term is set to renew on Dec. 31 then again on March 31, 2018.

Wolfe speculated that a decision on the terminal is one EFSEC and the governor’s office would rather avoid.

“The political intrigue in my brain is they’re all waiting for the port to make a decision to terminate,” he said.