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News / Business / Clark County Business

Union, business interests voice support for oil terminal

Port of Vancouver commissioners hear praise for Vancouver Energy proposal

By Dameon Pesanti, Columbian staff writer
Published: December 12, 2017, 4:56pm

Labor unions and business representatives turned out in numbers at the Port of Vancouver commissioners meeting Tuesday to urge port leaders not to cancel the lease with Vancouver Energy.

For about an hour, speaker after speaker — most wearing a mix of union regalia, high-visibility orange hoodies or blue T-shirts with “jobs now” emblazed across the front — took to the lectern to praise the oil terminal and the work it would bring.

Scott Schaefer of the Pacific Northwest Regional Council of Carpenters said Vancouver Energy has been a “good reliable partner” to the port. He said support for the company means “support for local workers and good living-wage jobs.”

“Since the 1800s, the Port of Vancouver has been the foundation for working class in Vancouver,” Schaefer said. “It would be hasty for the Port of Vancouver to cut ties with Vancouver Energy.”

The latest iteration of the port’s lease with the company expires and will renew at the end of this month. It automatically renews every three months, but it also can be canceled at that renewal point by either party for any reason.

Vancouver Energy proposes to build a rail-to-marine oil terminal capable of handling an average of 360,000 barrels of oil per day at the port.

The Washington State Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council, which scrutinized the project for more than four years, unanimously recommended the project be rejected.

Next week, they’ll vote to forward an official recommendation to Gov. Jay Inslee, who has the final say over the project’s future.

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Commissioner Jerry Oliver said he found the workers’ presence and support for the terminal gratifying.

“I’ve always seen this project as being a building block, an incremental activity that would benefit this community and benefit our nation,” he said.

Commissioner Eric LaBrant said he was skeptical of an opinion stated during the forum and that had been circulating within the business community that rejecting the project would have a chilling effect on business at the port and in the state at large.

“The project has been portrayed as the linchpin for the entire economy. … I’m still not convinced building an oil terminal at Terminal 5 is the only way we can create construction jobs,” LaBrant said.

Commissioner Brian Wolfe criticized the length of EFSEC’s evaluation process, which was supposed to be finished within a year, although he’s been a champion of the process since it began.

“I still have a strong belief this is a good project for Vancouver and Clark County — from an economic perspective,” Wolfe said.

He also decried the divisions he believes it created in the community and urged people on both sides of the issue to maintain respect for one another.

Wolfe also said he wouldn’t support either of his colleagues if they moved to cancel or lengthen the lease, citing his successor’s recent overwhelming election.

“(Don Orange) ran on a platform of terminating the lease,” he said. “I’m going to let him be the hero.”

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Columbian staff writer