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Feb. 6, 2023

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New poll shows opposition to oil terminal

Poll conducted only in the Port of Vancouver district

By , Columbian Transportation & Environment Reporter

A slight majority of voters in the Port of Vancouver district oppose plans to build a large oil terminal at the port, according to a new poll released Wednesday.

The survey, commissioned by Seattle-based Washington Conservation Voters — which opposes the terminal — found that 51 percent of respondents in the port district are against the proposal, compared with 42 percent in favor of it. The survey’s margin of error is 4.9 percentage points.

The numbers come on the heels of a separate survey recently released by the companies hoping to build the terminal. That poll sampled voters throughout Clark County and found more than two-thirds of respondents favored the proposal. This week’s poll, which targeted only the 111-square-mile Port of Vancouver taxing district, appears to show stronger opposition closer to the project.

“I think the public is weighing their options and seeing that this terminal is not good for the quality of life in Clark County, and that we can do better,” said Shannon Murphy, president of Washington Conservation Voters, a political advocacy group.

Tesoro Corp. and Savage Companies want to build an oil transfer terminal at the Port of Vancouver capable of handling an average of 360,000 barrels of crude per day. Oil would arrive by trains primarily from North Dakota, then be loaded onto marine vessels bound for other West Coast facilities. If built, the terminal would be the largest oil-by-rail facility in the United States.

The poll released this week was conducted by research firm Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates between Aug. 8 and 13. Pollsters interviewed 401 randomly selected voters “likely to participate in the November 2015 port election,” according to the firm.

Respondents showed a “very high awareness” of the Tesoro-Savage terminal, according to the data. Eighty-eight percent of voters said they have heard of the proposal, including 35 percent who have heard a “great deal” about the project.

The oil terminal has become a central issue in the race for the Port of Vancouver’s District 2 commissioner seat. Candidate Lisa Ross supports it; Eric LaBrant opposes it. Voters will pick one of them to replace outgoing Commissioner Nancy Baker in November.

This week’s poll “more closely reflects what I’m hearing when I’m knocking on doors,” LaBrant said. Opposition may actually be stronger than what the latest numbers suggest, he added.

The two polls reflected two different sentiments in two different sample areas. But the numbers may have less to do with geography, LaBrant said, and more to do with the questions being asked. Both Tesoro-Savage and Washington Conservation Voters released some — but not all — of the questions included in each survey.

Ross said she agrees with the latest poll’s conclusion that the oil terminal is a divisive issue. “The other conclusion, that voters are inclined to oppose it, is a bit more of a stretch,” Ross said in an email. She suggested opponents of the terminal represent a “vocal minority.”

The poll found that those who oppose the Tesoro-Savage terminal have stronger feelings about the project than those who support it. A much larger portion of opponents said they “strongly oppose” the project than backers who say they “strongly support” it, according to the poll. That’s a big takeaway showing the weight of the opposition to the project, Murphy said.

When respondents were given a general description of the project and its size, the gap narrowed. Total opposition dipped to 49 percent, and total support increased to 44 percent, according to the poll.

Washington Conservation Voters decided to commission the poll as part of its own research, and didn’t initially plan to release the results, Murphy said. The organization decided to do so in part because of the Tesoro-Savage poll that was released earlier in September, she said.

Both LaBrant and Ross noted a more important poll still to come: Election Day on Nov. 3.

Download the survey results: Port District Poll Public Memo

Columbian Transportation & Environment Reporter