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Friday, December 8, 2023
Dec. 8, 2023

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City poised to oppose any increase in Bakken crude oil traffic

Vancouver City Council's opposition 'like a stab in the back,' says port official


The Vancouver City Council appears poised to make a bold statement by opposing not only what would be the Northwest’s largest oil transfer terminal, but also any proposals that would result in an increase of Bakken crude oil being hauled through Clark County.

A draft resolution, discussed Monday by the council during a workshop, includes a pledge for the city to call on “municipalities, agencies and officials to deny all permits for new facilities that will result in an increase in the transportation of Bakken crude oil through Clark County until such time as there is a consensus among the industry and regulators as to the appropriate method of safely transporting Bakken crude oil.”

A public hearing will be at 7 p.m. June 2 at City Hall. The council will likely delay voting on the resolution until June 16.

Bakken crude oil, described in the resolution as more flammable than traditional heavy crude oil, would be handled at a facility proposed by Tesoro Corp. and Savage Companies. The lease was signed with the Port of Vancouver. The resolution, which asks port commissioners to terminate the lease, “seems a little bit like a stab in the back,” port Commissioner Brian Wolfe said.

Wolfe said Monday his agency will “probably not” reverse course on the lease. He said the port doesn’t have a legal reason to terminate the binding agreement for an oil-by-rail facility capable of handling up to 380,000 barrels of crude per day.

“A contract is supposed to be a pretty stable agreement in the legal world,” said Wolfe, who works as an attorney. “You don’t just willy-nilly walk away from a contract.”

Rescinding the contract, approved last year, could open the port to costly litigation, Wolfe said. And such a move would have a chilling effect on the port’s marketing efforts and other partnerships worldwide, he said.

The port and the city have worked together recently on numerous improvements along Vancouver’s waterfront, Wolfe said.

While Wolfe likened the resolution to a “stab in the back,” the resolution does not come as a surprise. Four of the members of the city council, Jack Burkman, Larry Smith, Bart Hansen and Anne McEnerny-Ogle, have made their opposition known. In March, Burkman, Hansen and Smith formed a subcommittee to work on the resolution.

Following Monday’s workshop, Councilor Alishia Topper said she’ll join the majority in supporting the resolution. Councilor Bill Turlay said he’ll wait until after the public hearing to decide how to vote. Mayor Tim Leavitt was out of town Monday and did not immediately return a message asking for his stance on the resolution.

Beyond asking the port to terminate the lease, the resolution urges the Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council, Gov. Jay Inslee, the Department of Ecology “and any other relevant state agencies” to “decline to permit crude-by-rail oil terminal projects, and specifically the proposed Tesoro-Savage project.”

A few hundred people attended Monday’s workshop at City Hall, with some people choosing to stand along the back walls in the council chambers rather than going to a room that had been set up with a live feed to accommodate the overflow crowd.

Turlay, McEnerny-Ogle and Topper asked questions about the resolution, and minor tweaks were proposed. Topper said she’d like to have more acknowledgment of the work the port has done for the city’s waterfront development project, cited as one reason to oppose the Tesoro-Savage terminal because BNSF railroad tracks border the development site.

But the love and respect the city has for the port gets top billing in the resolution. Burkman directed Topper to the first of 37 “Whereas” recitals. It reads, “Whereas, the city values its ongoing relationship with the Port of Vancouver and is committed to maintaining this partnership that is essential to the vitality and growth of our community and the region. The city recognizes that the views expressed in this resolution are specific to the proposed terminal project and are not intended to impact the broad and long-term working relationship between the city of Vancouver and the Port of Vancouver.”

The resolution focuses on safety risks associated with oil tank cars. It notes that while older tank cars are being phased out it will be years before all tank cars meet stricter requirements.

As a separate matter, the city will vote June 16 to formally intervene in the EFSEC process, which would give it standing to appeal if the project wins approval.

Inslee has final say on the project.

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