Millions of gallons of crude are making the journey from North Dakota to the Pacific Northwest every year and even more oil could be on its way if a proposed oil terminal is built at the Port of Vancouver. Learn more about our region's connection to North Dakota in our two-part series. In part one, we take a deeper look at the Bakken oil boom, issues surrounding the transport of that oil and how it could affect the Northwest for years to come. In part two, we look at the groups and individuals in the Northwest — including the Port of Vancouver and other Clark County businesses — that wants to cash in on the North Dakota oil boom.
In its lease for what would be the nation's largest rail-to-marine oil transfer terminal, the Port of Vancouver has not disclosed the deadline for two companies to secure permit approvals to build the project. But if the companies don't obtain the necessary state and federal permits on time, it would create an opportunity for the port to opt out of the contract.
The Port of Vancouver's tight lid on the public's business may be coming off. Sparked by the port's insular handling of a lease for what would be the nation's largest rail-to-marine oil transfer terminal, reform-minded critics are pushing the port to embrace a more transparent approach to making decisions. Some are jumping into the race for an open seat on the port commission, hoping to change the organization from within.
Even the most vigilant of Port of Vancouver watchers couldn't have foreseen how the port and two private companies were paving the way behind closed doors for quick local approval of what would be the nation's largest oil-to-marine transfer terminal.
The Port of Vancouver is a government body that's beholden to its voters and taxpayers. Yet its elected officials embrace a culture of secrecy, meeting behind closed doors "about 95 percent of the time," as one commissioner put it in a court deposition, and making decisions inside a bubble of deference to the port administration and the private industries it courts. As a result, the powerful port often sidesteps full public accountability, which is one reason why it faces impassioned political and legal challenges to its decision to approve what would be the nation's largest rail-to-marine oil transfer terminal.
To address a dramatic increase in crude oil traveling through the state — from zero gallons in 2011 to more than 700 million gallons in 2013 — Gov. Jay Inslee signed a measure into law Thursday to strengthen oil transport safety measures.