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News / Politics / Clark County Politics

Vancouver extends moratorium on oil-handling facilities

City council members add six months to existing ban

By Amy Fischer, Columbian City Government Reporter
Published: February 1, 2016, 9:44pm

For the third time, the Vancouver City Council has extended its moratorium on crude oil-handling facilities by six months, drawing praise from citizens Monday night.

“Your example has led to people throughout the region taking a closer look at the issue,” said Dan Serres, conservation director for Columbia Riverkeeper.

Due to Vancouver’s opposition to a massive crude oil-by-rail terminal proposed for the Port of Vancouver, the city of Portland has adopted a resolution opposing the project, Serres said.

“Thank you again for your strong leadership,” he said during Monday’s public hearing, when six people spoke in favor of the moratorium. No one testified against it.

The council adopted the original moratorium in September 2014, and city staff believe at least one more extension will be needed to allow time for deciding how crude oil terminals should be regulated. The current moratorium expires Feb. 17, and the one approved Monday will expire Aug. 17.

“Not a lot of local jurisdictions have delved into this area. We don’t have a lot of models to look at from other places. It’s a land use process and we’ll treat it as such,” Assistant City Attorney Brent Boger said Monday afternoon.

Boger told the council he expects draft regulations to be ready in two months that will go to the city Planning Commission for review before the council sees them. He said the city potentially could amend its zoning code to require a conditional land use permit for hazardous commodities at a stationary site. A conditional land use permit would require city approval.

However, Boger warned, “If it’s not done carefully, it could shut down a lot of relatively benign activities in our industrial areas.”

Before drafting rules, city staff had been waiting for the state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council to finish its draft environmental impact statement for the oil terminal proposed by Tesoro Corp. and Savage Cos. at the port. The draft EIS was expected to contain information, such as how the Vancouver Fire Department would respond to a catastrophic event, that would help the Vancouver City Council craft regulations to address crude oil terminals.

But the draft EIS, which the siting council issued Nov. 24, was “seriously deficient,” according to city documents.

“It wasn’t a very good study, and it didn’t answer the questions we need to have answered,” Boger said Monday.

On Jan. 22, the city submitted its comments on the oil terminal proposal to the siting council, calling the draft EIS “wholly inadequate.”

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“The document must be withdrawn and revised to present an accurate assessment of actual proposal risks,” City Attorney Bronson Potter and outside counsel Susan Drummond wrote.

The strong sentiment shared by the city echoes many comments submitted by oil terminal opponents, who say the risks of oil train derailment, fire and explosion are underplayed in the draft environmental review.

After the review is finished, the evaluation council will make a recommendation to Gov. Jay Inslee, who has final say over the building of the terminal.

The city moratorium doesn’t affect the Tesoro-Savage project, which would be the largest such terminal in the United States when operational and receive an average of 360,000 barrels of crude oil per day by rail at the port.

The moratorium also doesn’t affect the NuStar project, either, because its preliminary application was filed before the moratorium went into effect. That project involves receiving an average of 22,000 barrels of crude oil daily by rail at NuStar Energy’s two bulk tank terminals in Vancouver, at the port and at 5420 Fruit Valley Road, and shipping it out by barge.

Because the volume carried falls below the threshold to trigger state review, NuStar’s approval remains in the hands of the city.


Columbian staff writer Brooks Johnson contributed to this story.

Columbian City Government Reporter