Trust is a powerful thing. It can make or break relationships. It could also mean the difference between an oil terminal getting built at the Port of Vancouver.
“Can we trust this company to deliver on their safety promises?” Chris Lynch asked the state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council on Tuesday night at the second public hearing on the Vancouver Energy rail-to-marine oil terminal proposed by Tesoro Corp. and Savage Cos.
Opponents amassed in a sea of red and again outnumbered supporters as the evaluation council took comments at the Clark County Event Center at the Fairgrounds a week after the last hearing.
“Never before in my lifetime have I seen wider opposition to a project,” said Den Mark Wichar of Vancouver as hundreds wiggled their fingers in the air in silent support.
The hearings are part of the review process for the draft Environmental Impact Statement released in November for the terminal, slated to move 360,000 barrels of oil per day from railcars to cargo ships if approved. The environmental review is a major milestone for the project, which was first proposed publicly in 2013. A final review will guide the evaluation council’s decision on recommending the terminal to the governor, who has final say over whether it gets built.
Supporters of the terminal on Tuesday hammered on the jobs and greater economic benefits promised by the $210 million terminal, which would be the largest of its kind in the country.
“The economic benefits of Vancouver Energy mean thousands of jobs, millions in tax revenue,” said Port of Vancouver Commissioner Jerry Oliver, the first to speak Tuesday night. “The outcome of this process will have a profound and lasting impact on the community.”
Representatives from building trades spoke in favor of the terminal for the needed jobs the project would bring, and a representative of the Columbia River Steamship Operators Association said the river is a federally designated highway for commerce.
Their voices were largely drowned out by concerns over protecting the river, residents and workers from the risk of spills and explosions. In all, more than 150 people had signed up to speak Tuesday.
“We can do better — we are doing better,” said Bryan Shull, one of several small-business owners who showed up to speak against the terminal. “There is no reason to move back to 19th century technologies and 19th century fuels.”
An average of four 120-car trains would serve the terminal per day. The terminal also would cause an increase of about one more cargo ship per day calling in the Columbia. Nearly 1,400 ships crossed the bar in 2015, though fewer than 30 of them were oil tankers, according to the steamship association.
Crude oil destined for the Vancouver terminal would likely come from North Dakota’s Bakken formation and be shipped to West Coast refineries, though oil could be sourced throughout the continent and potentially exported abroad, according to the environmental review.
In addition to concerns about climate change, opponents of the terminal have seized on risks they say can’t be mitigated in the draft Environmental Impact Statement, and maintain that the risks to safety, the environment and the reputation of the town outweigh economic gains.
“Communities end up worse after a boom than they were before,” Sally Hart said.
A third and final hearing will be Thursday in Spokane Valley. Comments to the state evaluation council will be accepted until Jan. 22. They can be made at efsec.wa.gov or sent to the Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council, P.O. Box 43172, Olympia, WA 98504.
A finalized environmental review and recommendation for the governor could come later this year.