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Vancouver Energy files ‘May surprise,’ revising application

Massive new document could delay permitting process; oil-terminal foes call move ‘cheap political shot’

By Brooks Johnson, Columbian Business Reporter
Published: June 3, 2016, 7:45pm

A massive new document could disrupt the permitting process for the country’s largest oil-by-rail terminal — and it’s coming from the companies looking to build it.

Tesoro Corp. and Savage Cos., who proposed the 360,000-barrel-per-day terminal at the Port of Vancouver nearly three years ago, have submitted a revised application to the state containing hundreds of changes and troves of new information amid thousands of pages.

The move is troubling for terminal opponents, since adjudication hearings start later this month and all written testimony has already been filed ahead of those trial-like hearings in front of the state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council. That testimony now references a dated document.

“It’s absurd for Tesoro to dump thousands of pages of documents in front of (the council) and in front of all these parties,” said Dan Serres, conservation director for Columbia Riverkeeper, one of more than two dozen groups involved in adjudication. “It’s disrespectful to the process they’ve complained about so bitterly.”

Vancouver Energy, the joint venture of Tesoro and Savage, said the application refiling is a normal part of the process.

“The updated submission is a standard procedure and is done as part of preparation for the adjudicative proceedings,” spokesman Jeff Hymas said in an email. “It is intended to include the most up-to-date project design information. … It also incorporates and presents all of the measures proposed by Vancouver Energy to avoid, minimize and mitigate for impacts in accordance with applicable regulations.”

The application was submitted to the evaluation council May 27 and made public Wednesday.

Former evaluation council chair Jim Luce said that if the companies wanted to make changes to their application, they should have done so a year ago. The council “can and should” deny the amended application, he said, and those involved in adjudication can ask as much.

“From a personal perspective, having been in that position, I’m not very happy,” said Luce, a Vancouver resident who personally opposes the terminal. “This is a consummate dirty trick employed by Tesoro. If this was a football field, they’re not only playing outside the lines but outside the stadium.”

Adjudication has officially been underway for a year behind the scenes. The new application could pull the rug out from under the adjudication hearings, which are set to start the last week of June and run through the last week of July. Other than ask to deny the amended application, intervenors could ask to push back the hearings to get a chance to comb through the revised application and edit their testimony.

Nearly all of the groups involved in adjudication oppose the terminal, and the few reports that have surfaced so far have contained damning new information on the terminal.

The governor gets final say on the project following a recommendation from the evaluation council, though the decision can be appealed to the state Supreme Court. Gov. Jay Inslee can’t comment on the project while it is under review; however, his environmental record may foretell how he would decide.

“From Tesoro’s perspective, it’s ‘delay, maybe Bill Bryant will get elected,’ ” said Luce, referring to the Republican candidate for governor. “This is a cheap political shot.”

The Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council has been in a similar predicament. Luce was on the evaluation council when it gave the Sumas 2 natural gas plant an initial denial, received a new application then later approved the project, which never got built.

Vancouver Energy’s amended application comes after a recent vote by the Port of Vancouver’s commissioners to give the company more time to get through the permitting process. It now remains to be seen whether this will push that March 31, 2017, deadline out even farther.

“In presidential politics, they call it the October surprise,” Luce said. “This is the May surprise.”

Columbian Business Reporter