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Oil terminal hearing set for Tuesday at fairgrounds

Controversial oil project expected to draw large crowd

By , Columbian Business Reporter

You’ve had 40 days to read your assignment. It’s time now for an oral report.

The first public hearing on the proposed rail-to-marine oil terminal at the Port of Vancouver kicks off at 1 p.m. Tuesday and could last past 11 p.m.

It will be one of the biggest public hearings in the county’s history, and for good reason — the proposed terminal would be the largest of its kind in the country. If the number of written comments is any measure of public interest, the Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council, which is hosting the meeting, should expect plenty of testimony. Just a few weeks after release of the draft Environmental Impact Statement, the council had received some 500 written comments.

The project, a joint venture between Tesoro Corp. and Savage Cos. called Vancouver Energy, would handle an average of four 120-car oil trains per day. Oil arriving by rail from the Bakken oil fields or other oil-production sites would travel through the state and the Columbia River Gorge to the Port of Vancouver terminal, where it would be transferred to ships bound for refineries.

If You Go: Oil terminal hearing

What: Vancouver Energy oil-by-rail terminal public hearing.

When: 1 to 11 p.m. (or last speaker) Tuesday.

Where: Clark County Event Center at the Fairgrounds, Hall B, 17402 N.E. Delfel Road, Ridgefield.

Vancouver Energy has emphasized that the oil would be refined and consumed in the U.S., but the government’s recent lifting of a ban on oil exports opens the possibility that the oil could move to foreign markets.

In November, the state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council released its draft Environmental Impact Statement. Tuesday’s hearing will be a chance to comment on that massive review in front of the council, which is charged with making a recommendation on the project to Gov. Jay Inslee.

Once that recommendation is made, the governor can approve or deny the project, with his decision appealable to the state Supreme Court.

The project has been controversial from the time the proposal became public in 2013. Opponents have seized on what they call risks to life, property and ecosystems that they say cannot be mitigated.

Much of the backlash has focused on increased rail traffic, the risk of explosions and spills, negative repercussions for local business and the city’s image, and contributions to climate change.

Opponents successfully challenged the port’s initial approval of the project, filing a legal challenge over the Port of Vancouver commission’s alleged violation of the state Open Public Meetings Act that led the port’s three commissioners to take another vote. In both cases, the commission unanimously approved the project. Critics have repeatedly called on the port commission to cancel its contract with Vancouver Energy, to no avail.

Vancouver Energy has said it can build and operate the $210 million terminal safely. It has said the project could bring $2 billion to the local economy. That figure includes $1.6 billion in “labor income during construction and the first 15 years of operation,” according to a Vancouver Energy information sheet.

The Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council’s review does not consider the potential economic impact of a proposed energy facility.

The Port of Vancouver, which has touted the positive economic benefits of the terminal, is reviewing the draft Environmental Impact Statement and will eventually submit its own comments to the facility siting council.

The governor, as the ultimate decision-maker, is obligated to remain silent on the oil terminal proposal during the long review process. Inslee’s strong interest in global warming issues is widely known, and project opponents are optimistic that he ultimately will reject the project.

But opponents are taking nothing for granted. Various organizations will join a protest outside the hearing.

Tuesday’s hearing starts at 1 p.m. at the Clark County Event Center at the Fairgrounds, Hall B, 17402 N.E. Delfel Road, Ridgefield. It runs until 11 p.m., with a break from 4:30 to 6 p.m.

A second hearing will start at 5 p.m. Jan. 12 at the Clark County Event Center. Comments for the draft Environmental Impact Statement’s 60-day review period will be collected through Jan. 22 and eventually posted online at www.efsec.wa.gov.

The environmental review could be finalized sometime in 2016.

Columbian Business Reporter