In Our View: A Victory for Civic Activism

Port of Vancouver’s action on oil terminal lease win for those who love Vancouver

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By drawing closer to the end of a proposed oil terminal, Port of Vancouver commissioners on Tuesday delivered a victory for many people: Those who spoke out against the proposal, who left hundreds of thousands of comments on forums seeking public input, who attended commission meetings in droves, who attended regulatory council meetings in matching red shirts, who wrote letters to The Columbian and posted comments on Columbian.com, who campaigned and voted for Eric LaBrant, who campaigned and voted for Don Orange, and who left an indelible impression that a majority of people in the region stood together in opposition to the terminal.

Undoubtedly, we are forgetting some of those who have diligently fought throughout the past four years to maintain the economic and environmental values of Clark County. But when commissioners voted unanimously to inform Andeavor (formerly Tesoro Corp.) and Savage Cos. that their lease for building and operating an oil terminal will be terminated on March 31 unless all necessary permits and approval is received by then, it was a victory for civic activism.

That is worthy of celebration. While there is room for disagreement over the benefits a terminal would bring to Vancouver, opposition to the proposal has been robust and sustained since the idea first came to light in 2013. Brought together only by a shared belief that the benefits of the plan were heavily outweighed by the drawbacks, many local residents have spent time, money and energy to make their voices heard. Throughout, those voices rang louder than those of terminal supporters.

This is understandable. The proposal was the wrong idea at the wrong time in the wrong place. By bringing about 15 million gallons of crude oil per day by train through the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, past populated areas including downtown Vancouver, the project would imperil the region’s scenery and quality of life. The risks of a derailment or explosion are self-evident; the drawbacks of tainting Vancouver as an oil town are profound.

And yet those drawbacks might have gone unnoticed or quickly been forgotten if not for the diligence of opponents. It is human nature to glance at the prospect of a terminal and greet it with a shrug before moving on to the next item of concern. Even for those who might have registered slight opposition to the proposal, the temptation is to allow attention to soon be drawn elsewhere.

But those on the front lines of the battle against the terminal would not allow that to happen. Recognizing that the plan would be transformational for Vancouver and all of Clark County, they showed up at meetings and posted reminders of exactly what was at stake. While there are many quotes about the power of activism, we’ll go with this one from Dr. Seuss: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” That is from “The Lorax,” a fable about corporate greed and environmentalism that is pertinent to the battle over the proposed oil terminal.

That battle has not officially ended. Gov. Jay Inslee still is considering the proposal, after a unanimous recommendation from the state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council that the governor reject it. And the port’s lease remains in place until at least March 31.

But the chance of an oil terminal is being nailed shut, representing a victory for those who maintained a vibrant vision for the future of Vancouver — and then worked to make that vision a reality.