The most comprehensive look yet at the Port of Vancouver oil-by-rail transfer terminal proposed more than two years ago is expected to be unveiled this week. Then the rush will be on for public comment before another long period of regulatory review.
The draft Environmental Impact Statement will be an in-depth look at the controversial project, which would be the nation’s largest crude-by-rail transfer terminal and receive an average of 360,000 barrels of oil a day. Many community members and officials have already weighed in on the project, but the state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council’s environmental analysis is a much-anticipated milestone in the process.
“People have opinions,” said Jim Luce, the former chair of the state panel charged with recommending whether the project should be built, but this report “should provide them facts.”
The environmental analysis, scheduled to be released Tuesday, is expected to offer specifics on a range of issues from the terminal’s impacts on wildlife migration routes to fish habitat to risks of explosions and train derailments.
Timing of release
Once the document is released, the public will have 45 or 60 days to comment.
Since the terminal was first proposed in 2013, it has sparked controversy nearly every step of the way. The timing of the release at the start of the holiday season, and the number of days available for public comment, are no exceptions.
Luce argued to state regulators that releasing the lengthy analysis over the holidays would limit the number of people who will have a chance to give feedback.
“When are you going to look at the (environmental statement)? Before the turkey is served or before the New Year’s champagne is poured?” he asked.
The Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council, the state panel charged with evaluating the analysis and project, is made up of a chairperson appointed by the governor and representatives of five state agencies. It set the public comment period at 45 days, the standard time frame in the review process. Vancouver Energy, the joint effort of Tesoro Corp. and Savage Cos., which proposed the project, recently consented to an extension of the comment period to 60 days.
“This extension would accommodate the Thanksgiving holiday and allow (the site evaluation panel) to schedule public hearings after the first of the year if they so choose,” said Jeff Hymas, spokesman for the project. The panel said it is considering the request but as of last week had made no decision. The timing of a public review in the holiday period should not surprise anyone, Hymas wrote in an email to The Columbian, noting the Vancouver Energy project pushed an earlier release.
“We’re already 26 months into what state statute defines as a 12-month process, and believe it’s important for (the evaluation council) to manage its schedule to avoid any unnecessary delays while ensuring a thorough review of the project,” Hymas wrote.
Despite the push to stick to a timeline, the review is not expected to be finished until 2017.
Part of the reason for the delay, said Amanda Maxwell, a spokeswoman for the energy siting panel, is the unprecedented scope of the project.
The panel has received more than 30,000 comments on the application, she said. The initial study, which was done by Vancouver Energy as part of their application, also lacked substance. The evaluation council blasted the study as needing a “major rewrite” and cite that as a reason for the delay.
The state siting panel hired an independent consultant to prepare the draft Environmental Impact Statement and will review the result.
The choosing of the consultant, Cardno Entrix, a subsidiary of an Australia-based global company, concerned some critics who noted that it has previously worked for Tesoro.
The siting council will draw on the report by Cardno Entrix, the public’s testimony and courtlike proceedings to make a recommendation to the governor.
The city of Vancouver, the Port of Vancouver and state agencies are considered “parties of right.” Others, such as Friends of the Columbia Gorge, Native American tribes and Columbia Riverkeeper, have shown they have a demonstrable interest in the case and are involved as intervenors. Both the intervenors and the parties of right will have a chance during the adjudication to present witnesses and evidence.
At the end of the process, the Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council sends its recommendation to the governor, who has 60 days to either accept it, reject it or send it back with modifications. The governor’s decision can then be appealed to the state Supreme Court.