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News / Business

Foes of oil terminal project greatly outnumber friends

By Dameon Pesanti, Columbian staff writer
Published: June 26, 2016, 6:04am

A week before adjudication on a proposal to build the nation’s largest oil terminal begins, 18 organizations, from government agencies to tribes and environmental groups to the terminal’s developer, filed briefs with the Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council defining their arguments.

Only two groups, Vancouver Energy and the Port of Vancouver, will argue in support of the project during the five weeks of hearings.

In its opening brief, the city of Vancouver says it is “staunchly opposed to approval of the application” and even includes an aerial photo of the fiery and deadly oil train derailment in Lac-M?gantic, Quebec.

“This proposal is directly counter to Vancouver’s vision for itself as a vibrant urban community and threatens the safety of its approximately 165,000 citizens,” according to the brief.

Columbia Waterfront LLC, which is developing a large swath of waterfront in downtown Vancouver, describes the terminal in its brief as “easily the most controversial project” the evaluation council has reviewed in more than 30 years.

“The people of Washington are being asked to assume all the risks of crude-by-rail transportation but will not gain more abundant energy or economic benefits in return,” it wrote.

Clark County argues the terminal “presents serious, quantifiable and unacceptable risks” to the health and safety of inmates and workers at the county’s 200-bed Jail Work Center. Should something happen at the terminal, according to the filing, there aren’t enough resources to protect the work center’s occupants or move them to safety.

The city of Spokane wrote that its emergency responders are trained for the derailment of trains carrying highly hazardous or flammable materials, but effectively responding to a derailment of an up to 120-car oil unit train would be beyond their capabilities.

Environmental groups Columbia Riverkeeper, Climate Solutions, Stand, Friends of the Columbia Gorge, Sierra Club, Spokane Riverkeeper, Washington Environmental Council and Fruit Valley Neighborhood Association collectively filed a brief with the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation and the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission.

Their brief argues the project’s air and noise pollution would impact human health, but also, “the oil terminal would cause increased emissions of greenhouse gases, affecting climate change on a global scale.”

Also, they say the terminal would harm Columbia River fish and would interfere with tribes’ treaty-protected fishing rights.

The Washington Department of Natural Resources filing claims the terminal would increase the risk of wildfire along hundreds of miles of track, which state firefighters “are not prepared to address.”

Matthew Kernutt, the Washington attorney general’s counsel for the environment, also stands against the project, saying the risks are too great for it to be approved.

“The testimony is clear that a worst-case oil spill … would have substantial ecological impacts to the Columbia River,” he wrote.

In its brief, Vancouver Energy downplays the opposition’s concerns as “nothing more than a parade of hypothetical horribles, without consideration of probability.”

The document addresses the topics raised by the opposition and “explains the balance and the available and reasonable methods” the terminal will use to minimize impacts.

It also said opponents’ arguments are primarily against rail and oil tankers, which Vancouver Energy doesn’t own or operate.

The company argues shipping oil by train is already happening and will continue whether the terminal is approved, and the Columbia River is regularly used by large shipping vessels for maritime commerce.

“The risks of transportation-related incidents are reasonable, when measured by standard risk assessment tools that address both the probability and outcome of a potential event,” reads the filing.

In support of the project, the Port of Vancouver references its legislative mandate of economic development and job creation and says its location and infrastructure make it an ideal location for the terminal. Vancouver Energy’s project also aligns with the port’s mission and strategy for the longevity of economic diversity and funding, reads the port’s brief.

“This terminal can make the transport of North American crude oil more cost-effective and efficient than current alternatives, providing abundant power at reasonable cost.”

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Columbian staff writer