Close to 700 people attended a Vancouver City Council meeting Monday, and a majority of speakers urged councilors to fight an oil-handling facility at the Port of Vancouver.
The meeting ended at 1:25 a.m. today, with the council voting unanimously to formally intervene in the state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council process and voting 5-2 to adopt a council policy to fight not only the Tesoro-Savage project, but all proposals that would result in an increase of Bakken crude oil being hauled through Clark County.
Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt and Councilor Bill Turlay voted no on the second resolution. Each of them said they didn’t have enough information about the project. When councilors asked whether delaying the vote a week or two would give them enough time, Leavitt said he wanted to wait for the environmental impact statement to be completed and Turlay said he didn’t know.
“I don’t know how long I’ll need, to be perfectly honest with you,” Turlay said. “Push it through. You’ve got the majority. What are you asking me for?”
Councilors Jack Burkman, Larry Smith, Bart Hansen, Anne McEnerny-Ogle and Alishia Topper voted in favor of the second resolution.
The meeting was in the Heritage Ballroom at the Hilton Vancouver Washington, next door to City Hall, in anticipation of the large crowd. City Attorney Ted Gathe said the meeting didn’t set the record for the longest council meeting (that belongs to a meeting that ran until 3:30 a.m.) but likely set a record in terms of attendance.
Tesoro Corp. and Savage Companies want to build what would be the largest oil-by-rail terminal in the Northwest, capable of handling up to 380,000 barrels of crude per day.
Public hearings began at 7 p.m. on the two city council resolutions.
Leavitt said 140 people signed up to testify, and each speaker was allotted three minutes. Testimony ended at approximately 12:30 a.m., and in all 101 people spoke.
The council has been unanimous in wanting to intervene in the EFSEC process, a legal maneuver that would give the city standing to appeal if the project wins approval.
And while five of the seven council members had publicly expressed support for the resolution pledging to fight all Bakken crude oil proposals, Leavitt said prior to the meeting he thought it would be beneficial to postpone voting on the resolution.
Several speakers criticized a Tesoro-Savage flier mailed to Vancouver residents recently that called council opposition to the project an “empty political gesture.”
Former Vancouver Mayor Royce Pollard said he’s never seen such a large crowd at a council meeting, and said the city’s resolution will send a powerful message.
“Tell them not only ‘No,’ but ‘Hell, no,'” Pollard said.
Speakers who favored the resolutions cited unsafe tank cars, increased rail traffic causing delays at crossings, environmental threats and the terminal ruining the city’s plans for waterfront development.
Those who opposed the resolution urged the council to let the EFSEC process run its course.
Jared Larrabee, general manager of the proposed project, noted the final decision will be made at the state level. The terminal is now in the hands of EFSEC, which will ultimately make a recommendation to Gov. Jay Inslee.
Speaking before Monday’s hearing, Larrabee characterized the city’s recent actions on the terminal as contradictory.
Last week, a city attorney argued that EFSEC should wait until after a detailed environmental analysis of the project is complete before deciding whether it complies with local land-use and zoning rules. Yet the city council is moving to formally oppose the terminal, Larrabee said — without that same analysis.
“Trying to take a political position before having all of that information is, in our view, not the correct approach,” Larrabee said.
A draft environmental impact statement for the terminal is expected to be complete this summer.
Tesoro-Savage fully supports the city’s resolution to formally intervene in the review process, Larrabee said. That would give Vancouver a larger role in the review, and give it standing to appeal should the proposal win approval.
“That’s really what we’re asking and what we’re looking for, is a chance to go through the process,” Larrabee said.
In a letter submitted to the council before Monday’s meeting, Port of Vancouver Commissioner Brian Wolfe said he felt “overwhelming disappointment” when he first read the proposed resolution opposing the oil terminal.
The resolution begins by stressing the value of the city’s partnership with the port, and the city’s commitment to maintain it. But the proposal itself erodes that partnership, Wolfe said.
“If you vote on this resolution, it can only hurt our relationship,” he wrote. “‘Partners don’t do this to each other. Partners work together first to build a better community, and secondly to find common resolution to troublesome problems. That’s not what this resolution does.”
The resolution urges Port of Vancouver commissioners to terminate the lease the port signed with Tesoro-Savage last year — something Wolfe has said isn’t likely to happen, regardless of what the city says. Breaking the lease would amount to a breach of contract that could lead to litigation and damage the port’s reputation, he said.
In his letter, Wolfe called on city leaders to allow the review by EFSEC run its course.
“I have to ask: What are you afraid of in this EFSEC process?” Wolfe wrote.
He continued: “Let EFSEC and our Governor complete the process. If they come to the same conclusions — based on fact — that this project can’t be done safely, then the project will not be permitted,” Wolfe wrote.