Wednesday, September 30, 2020
Sept. 30, 2020

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Port of Vancouver survey: People split on oil terminal

Public support rises after mention of employment, less than expert expected

By , Columbian Business Editor

A new poll released Tuesday by the Port of Vancouver shows an equal split of support and opposition to the proposed oil rail-to-marine transfer terminal at the port, with fully one-third of residents strongly opposed to the project.

The survey of 450 registered voters in the port district, conducted March 7-22 by Riley Research Associates of Portland, was billed as a “community awareness and perception poll” tied to a new marketing campaign. The pollsters spoke to 150 voters in each of the port’s three districts. The poll’s overall margin of error is plus or minus 4.6 percent.

About three-fifths of respondents said they’d seen information about the port recently, with one-third mentioning the oil terminal and 17 percent aware of a proposed redevelopment at the Port’s Terminal 1 that includes the former Red Lion Hotel Vancouver at the Quay. On the oil terminal, 43 percent said they support the facility, including 23 percent who said they “very much” support the project. Another 42 percent said they were opposed, including 33 percent who said they “very much” oppose the project. Fifteen percent were undecided.

Prediction of jobs

Sentiment shifted somewhat when respondents were told of plans by Tesoro Corp., one partner in the Vancouver Energy proposal, to “create jobs as part of the project.” Specifically, the question stated that “Tesoro expects to invest some $210 million and plans to create 175 permanent jobs on site, with 1,000 jobs total, as an effect of the project.”

With that information, 64 percent said either that they would continue to support the project or were more likely to support it. That number included 23 percent who had shifted from “very much oppose” to “unsure.” Another 27 percent said the job information made them less likely to support the project. Nine percent remained in the “unsure” category.

Michael Riley, owner and research director at Riley Research Associates, said support for a project typically rises when it creates jobs. Riley said he was surprised that the job information didn’t provide a bigger boost “given the relatively high underemployment in the region.

“People don’t value jobs as much as they used to,” he said.

Vancouver Energy has said that the estimate of 1,000 jobs it promotes takes into account direct employment as well as jobs at suppliers to the project and “spending in the region.”

Over three-quarters of respondents said they support the redevelopment of Terminal 1, with 14 percent neutral and just 11 percent opposed. More than eight out of 10 respondents supported the port’s mission to provide jobs and economic benefit to the community. Over 40 percent said they didn’t have enough information to rate the port’s performance, but those who did offer an opinion gave the port a collective rating of 6.2 on a scale of 10.

Ryan Hart, the port’s chief external affairs officer, said the public awareness campaign was in part in reaction to Commissioner Eric LaBrant’s discovery during his campaign for the commission last year that many people didn’t even know they were part of a port district.

“We’ve been talking about TV and radio for a while, and after hearing the commissioner’s comment, we were even more determined to broaden our campaign and improve public awareness,” Hart said.

The port launched ads in mid-March on local television and radio stations.