When plans for the nation’s largest oil terminal at the Port of Vancouver surfaced in 2013, project backers likely expected opposition from environmentalists. But what they surely didn’t anticipate was that a broad swath of the region, from city councils to local businesses to Indian tribes, would so forcefully turn against a project promising tax dollars and jobs to a cash- and job-hungry community.
In the past three years, a broad-based coalition of terminal opponents has waged an unrelenting campaign to win the hearts and minds of the general public. Most of the connections within the coalition are loose and each member focuses on their particular interests, be they global warming or the risks of crude-by-rail. Collectively they’ve managed to overwhelm supporters at public hearings and in the state’s environmental review process, which generated more than 250,000 comments on the terminal, nearly all opposed to the project.
“I think (Tesoro and Savage) expected this to be easy and straightforward, they were going to roll into town and sail through the permitting process,” said Eric de Place, policy director of Seattle-based Sightline Institute, an environmentally focused think tank and one of the leading opponents of the oil terminal. “I don’t think they counted on running into this buzz saw opposition.”
The debate isn’t over. Despite local outcry that has amassed since the project’s initial proposal, the Port of Vancouver Board of Commissioners still support the project. Even Commissioner Eric LaBrant, who was elected on an anti-terminal platform, voted to extend Vancouver Energy’s lease after winning some concessions.
Supporters and opponents are awaiting the next round of debate before the quasi-judicial Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council. The evaluation council will enter into a period of adjudication, with testimony similar to that of a court proceeding, beginning June 27.