A proposal by NuStar Energy to handle crude oil at the Port of Vancouver went under the microscope for a second day Thursday as a hearings examiner listened to several hours of testimony on the project.
At issue is whether NuStar’s plans must undergo a detailed environmental review. The city of Vancouver decided in April that the proposal would require a sweeping environmental impact statement; NuStar later appealed that decision.
Both sides made their case in a trial-like format at Vancouver City Hall this week. Attorneys called witnesses and conducted cross-examinations. A parade of citizens also weighed in Thursday morning, almost all of them against the NuStar proposal — and in favor of a broad review.
“We need an EIS because there are too many unanswered questions,” said Vancouver resident Don Steinke. “We need an EIS because there are very probable adverse impacts.”
NuStar wants to convert its existing facility at the Port of Vancouver to handle about 22,000 barrels of crude oil per day. The site would receive oil by rail, store it temporarily, then transfer it to marine vessels on the Columbia River. The oil handled at the facility would amount to less than one full oil train per day.
Hearings examiner Sharon Rice is expected to make her decision on NuStar’s appeal in September. She could uphold the city’s decision and require an environmental impact statement, or rule in favor of NuStar and grant “determination of non-significance.” The case also could be remanded back to the city for further consideration.
The proposal already has received permits from the Southwest Clean Air Agency, which granted its approval last year. At the time, the NuStar project was relatively little-known and largely flew under the radar. Even the city didn’t weigh in on that review — a fact NuStar pointed out at this week’s hearing. (The Vancouver Fire Department, however, did provide a comment.)
Residents who testified on Thursday raised a host of concerns, chief among them the risks of transporting oil on trains and bringing them directly to a terminal in Vancouver. A series of fiery derailments and spills elsewhere in recent years have heightened those worries.
Opponents noted several of those incidents have occurred since the Southwest Clean Air Agency issued its permit. Federal rules on oil-by-rail also have changed. So has the discussion surrounding tank car standards.
“This is significant new information warranting an environmental impact statement,” said Miles Johnson, an attorney with environmental group Columbia Riverkeeper.
Not everyone spoke against NuStar during public testimony. Mike Schiller, the Port of Vancouver’s director of business development, praised NuStar’s safety record and noted the company has handled hazardous materials on the site for years. NuStar has handled methanol, jet fuel, antifreeze and other products in Vancouver before, but not crude oil.
The port is also concerned that an inconsistent review process could create uncertainty for businesses looking to bring jobs and growth to the community, Schiller said.
Appeal hearings like this week’s are rare for Vancouver, said Senior Planner Jon Wagner. A city decision requiring an environmental impact statement for a project is also rare, he said.
The parties involved in this week’s hearing now have the opportunity to file additional materials. Rice’s decision could be appealed to Clark County Superior Court.