Oil terminal foes celebrate at port commissioner meeting

By Dameon Pesanti, Columbian staff writer

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Today’s open forum at the Port of Vancouver commissioners meeting sounded more like a victory lap for the anti-oil terminal crowd, rather than what is typically a pro forma element of the board’s fortnightly meeting.

The crowd — most of whom wore red, the color of the anti-fossil fuel movement of the Pacific Northwest — filled every available seat in the commission’s meeting room. Those who showed up late had to watch from the rows of folding chairs set up in the lobby.

Only seven people spoke, but practically all of them addressed the audience as much as the commission.

They celebrated the recent election of Don Orange, a man who made his opposition to the Vancouver Energy oil terminal the central pillar of his campaign, as a clear rejection of the project. They also praised the people who worked on the issue over the years and volunteered at the election.

“The election was really a referendum of what the community really wants the port to do and it clearly told you that we really don’t want this stinking toxic terminal here in our town,” said Bob Low.

Vancouver Energy wants 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 to be stored and shipped out of the port by marine vessels bound for oil refineries along the West Coast.

But it is anticipated that once Orange assumes office in January he and District 2 Commissioner Eric LaBrant will move to cancel the lease with Vancouver Energy.

“Now I can look ahead with great optimism because I see tremendous opportunities for the port because you’re not bogged down — well, soon won’t be bogged down by all of the turmoil,” Low said.

Commissioner Brian Wolfe was also the subject of praise from several of the speakers for his recent announcement that he would not take any actions that would extend the port’s lease with Vancouver Energy before his term is finished.

Wolfe has been the swing vote on the proposed oil terminal as District 3 Commissioner Jerry Oliver has supported the project and LaBrant has opposed it. At times, Wolfe has sided with LaBrant to spur discussion but then ultimately voted to allow the lease to continue.

Vancouver Energy, a joint venture between Andeavor (formerly Tesoro Corp.) and Savage Cos., has told the public 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 have long been skeptical of that message and maintained that the risks to the environment and human health outweigh the benefits. Many of those opponents have advocated for the port to step away from the agreement since the beginning.

“It’s been a very long fight. I was here that day … 4½ years ago when Tesoro and Savage made their presentation,” said Lehman Holder, an active member of the Sierra Club and critic of the oil terminal. “I spoke to the commissioners afterwards and I remember saying there would be very intense opposition. Well, that turned out to be an understatement.”

The terminal is into its fourth year of review by the Washington Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council. The council 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.

Several speakers said it’s now time for the port to look for other tenants to occupy Terminal 5, the location where Vancouver Energy proposes to build its terminal.

Port CEO Julianna Marler said port staff is doing just that.

“I do want to reiterate that we are actively marketing Terminal 5,” she said. “We issued a statement of interest earlier in the year and we are continuing to look at those opportunities and that takes time.”

None of the commissioners made a comment after the forum and they moved on to the day’s agenda as the audience trickled out of the room.