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Thursday, June 1, 2023
June 1, 2023

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EFSEC sends official recommendation on oil terminal to Inslee

By , Columbian staff writer

It’s now up to Gov. Jay Inslee to decide if Vancouver will become an oil town.

The Washington State Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council on Tuesday finalized its recommendation to deny permits for the proposed Vancouver Energy oil terminal and voted to send its report to the governor. The decision solidified the council’s Nov. 28 unanimous vote to recommend to Inslee that he should deny the project.

Now, two different clocks are ticking.

As of Tuesday, Inslee has 60 days to make his decision. At the same time, parties involved with the evaluation process have 20 calendar days to file a petition for reconsideration to EFSEC. In this case it would likely be Vancouver Energy. After those 20 days go by, and, if a request is made, the other parties (likely the groups opposed to the terminal) will then have 14 days to respond to a request. Then, after another 14-day period, EFSEC would make a decision to reopen the record or not.

The report EFSEC forwarded to Inslee is more than 100 pages long and accompanied by a 430-page supporting document that recaps the adjudication findings of fact, conclusion of law and order to proceed with the recommendation.

A spokeswoman for Inslee wouldn’t reveal the governor’s thinking on the project.

“The governor appreciates EFSEC providing a thorough review of the project. Once he receives the council’s recommendation, our office will begin our own analysis and make a decision within the 60 days allotted,” wrote Stevie Mathieu in an email.

Project opponents were as enthusiastic about EFSEC’s latest vote as they were about the one in November.

“It is the absolutely correct outcome based on an extraordinary amount of evidence and legal standards. EFSEC did the right thing,” said Kristen Boyles, staff attorney at Earthjustice, one of the organizations that opposed the project. “If you look at the eight-page table of contents you can see there are a multitude of areas where Vancouver Energy fell short.”

Vancouver Energy officials said the company is still frustrated with the council’s recommendation, but they haven’t said whether they’ll request reconsideration.

“We remain disappointed with EFSEC’s recommendation regarding the Vancouver Energy project, especially after a review of more than four years in a process that state law says should take one year. EFSEC has set an impossible standard for new energy facilities based on the risk of incidents that the Final Environmental Impact Statement characterizes as extremely unlikely,” the company said in a statement. “The FEIS confirmed that construction and normal operation of the facility would have no significant unavoidable impacts that cannot be mitigated.

“This decision sends a clear anti-development message that will have a chilling effect on business in the state of Washington. The value of the Vancouver Energy project continues to exist, and we will continue to move forward in this process and await Gov. Inslee’s decision. We hope the governor understands the precedent being set by this council that impacts a wide range of commerce-related industry,” the company’s statement said.

Abbi Russell, spokeswoman for the Port of Vancouver, said she “can’t answer whether we’re disappointed. We stand behind our lease and stand behind our client at this time.”

Terminal risks

Vancouver Energy is proposing to build the $210 million terminal at the Port of Vancouver. It would be capable of transferring an average of 360,000 barrels of crude oil per day from trains into marine vessels, which would travel down the Columbia River bound for refineries.

The company applied for a site certification agreement from EFSEC in 2013. In November, the council found five significant unavoidable impacts that cannot be fully mitigated if the terminal were constructed.

Those issues included socioeconomic impacts to Vancouver’s Fruit Valley neighborhood; fire and medical service response delays due to increased rail traffic; increased accidents and deaths in the rail corridor as a result of increased train traffic; potential impacts to the dock and transfer pipeline, which could result in a spill in the event of a large earthquake; and impacts from a fire spill, or explosion at the facility.

EFSEC is supposed to serve as a clearinghouse for major energy projects proposed around the state. When it was created by the state Legislature in 1970, the council’s work was supposed to be as fast as it was thorough. State law dictates the evaluation be finished in a year, but Vancouver Energy’s report took more than four.

Vancouver Energy has spent in excess of $10 million for EFSEC’s evaluation and the final bill has yet to come, said company spokesman Jeff Hymas.

Technical difficulties

People with a keen interest in the meeting but who couldn’t attend in person were left scrambling for a way to tune in as it unfolded. Government access channel TVW had a technical problem so there was no audio to accompany the live video on any of its platforms. The audio was restored just after the meeting was over.

Timing of the malfunction was particularly bad because many Puget Sound people who would have driven to Olympia to watch in person couldn’t due to the closure of southbound Interstate 5 due to Monday’s train derailment.

Instead many planned to watch and listen for a rare bit of insight into what the council thought about the project.

Dan Serres, conservation director for the Columbia Riverkeeper, said he was among about 35 people at a watch party at the Vancouver Public Library who sat and stared at soundless broadcast.

“We were all sitting there with the live stream up, trying to lip read,” he said.

“We had a technical glitch with our software-based TV equipment. The equipment we use now is digital audio and once in a while it just hiccups,” said Mike Bay, vice present of programing at TVW. “We were able to track it down but not until after the meeting.”

As a remedy, EFSEC plans to release a transcript of the hearing.

Columbian staff writer