Washougal leaders join together in opposing oil terminal

City council, school board adopt resolutions citing grave concerns

By Justin Runquist, Columbian

 Washougal’s elected officials and school district leaders are presenting a united front against the increase of crude oil train traffic through the small city.

This week, both the city council and the school board adopted resolutions expressing grave concerns about the potential for spills, explosions and other major threats to safety through the Columbia River Gorge. The statements come the month before the state Department of Ecology is set to finish a study on whether crude oil can be safely transferred by rail throughout Washington.

The oil-by-rail facility proposed for the Port of Vancouver would be the largest oil terminal in the country, handling a daily average of 360,000 barrels of crude oil, the equivalent of four trains. Few sites throughout the state act as stopping points for oil trains, and Vancouver Energy, a partnership between Tesoro Corp. and Savage Companies, is behind the plan. The site would serve as a transloading terminal to move crude oil from the railway to the ships in the Columbia River.

The proposal remains under review from the state’s Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council. After Vancouver, Washougal becomes the second city in Clark County to take an official stance against the terminal. Washougal also became the first local school district to do the same.

Washougal has already experienced an influx of oil train traffic as oil-by-rail shipping has significantly picked up in recent years.

Ultimately, the Washougal City Council’s resolution gives the go-ahead for the city’s attorney to intervene in the state’s site evaluation process for the proposed terminal. It also states a number of concerns about traffic impact mitigation, and the need for an incident response plan and greater training and equipment for oil train emergencies.

The council’s resolution passed with unanimous support at a sparsely attended meeting. Mayor Sean Guard and councilors Joyce Lindsay and Connie Jo Freeman were absent. Jennifer McDaniel excused herself out of concern for a potential conflict of interest, considering that her husband has ties to the railroad.

Meanwhile, the Washougal School District urged Gov. Jay Inslee to stop oil-by-rail traffic throughout the state until the Department of Ecology has finished its safety study. The district also asked Congress and the Legislature to establish regulations that would provide more transparency for the contents of oil trains and the frequency and duration of their trips through the area.

State energy panel: Land-use zone allows oil terminal

EFSEC stresses Tesoro-Savage plan not a done deal

By Aaron Corvin, The Columbian, July 15, 2014

The site where Tesoro Corp. and Savage Companies want to build the Northwest’s largest oil-by-rail terminal in Vancouver is appropriately zoned for such a purpose, the state panel reviewing the proposal decided Tuesday.

But that doesn’t mean the companies will be allowed to launch a rail-and-river operation handling as much as 380,000 barrels of crude per day at the Port of Vancouver, according to the state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council.

During its regular public meeting in Olympia that was accessible by telephone, the evaluation council voted 8 to 1 to settle what it described as a very narrow question: Does the city’s heavy industrial zone at the port allow for such uses as the oil transfer terminal proposed by Tesoro and Savage?

And while the evaluation council answered “yes,” it also went to great lengths to point out that the question of whether the companies should actually get to build and operate their project is far from settled.

Approval of a narrow land-use consistency matter “does not, by any means, translate into an approval of the proposed project,” Bill Lynch, chairman of the evaluation council, said Tuesday.

The council’s decision was unfavorable to the city of Vancouver. The city had asked the council to put off deciding the land-use consistency issue until the analysis of the oil terminal’s environmental impacts is finished. Bryan Snodgrass, principal planner for the city who was appointed to serve on the evaluation council during the review of the Tesoro-Savage proposal, cast the lone “no” vote Tuesday.

At the same time, the evaluation council’s decision enables the companies to take another small step forward in a slow, grinding environmental-impact review process that looks like it will stretch on further.

Although state law says the evaluation council has one year to make its recommendation on a large energy-project proposal — and gives Gov. Jay Inslee another 60 days to accept, reject or send the proposal back to the council — the law also provides for extensions.

During the hearing, Sonia Bumpus, a specialist for the evaluation council, said the Tesoro-Savage permit application, filed in late August, is nearing its one-year anniversary. A lot more work needs to be done, she said, so more time will be needed.

Language added

The evaluation council also agreed to put language in its land-use consistency approval making it clear that people may still raise numerous concerns about the proposed oil terminal, including everything from potential oil spills and fire risks to negative impacts on neighborhoods and city services.

The language was included in response to remarks by Snodgrass, who said he had concerns with an “unqualified” finding that the Tesoro-Savage proposal fits the city’s zoning rules. Other evaluation council members agreed, saying the zoning approval should be construed narrowly and not taken as a dismissal of environmental-impact and community concerns.

The council’s decision followed a May 28 hearing during which it heard arguments over the land-use consistency issue.

Jay Derr, an attorney for Tesoro and Savage, had argued the land-use issue was a housekeeping matter. The evaluation council should allow the companies and the public to move immediately onto the project’s environmental impact statement, he said.

The city argued otherwise, saying the oil terminal doesn’t automatically comply with the city’s land-use rules and policies. It’s not possible for the city or the evaluation council to decide the land-use matter “without knowing the full extent” of the project’s environmental impacts, Bronson Potter, city attorney for Vancouver, said.

Although the Tesoro-Savage proposal moved forward Tuesday, it still has a long way to go.

The evaluation council’s decision-making process is complex, involving multiple permit reviews, a detailed environmental-impact analysis, many opportunities for public comments and an adjudicative process where arguments fly in an atmosphere not unlike that of a trial court.

The city of Vancouver, which opposes the oil terminal, could still ask the evaluation council to reconsider signing off on the oil terminal’s compatibility with city zoning, in light of the draft environmental impact statement.

And it could present other evidence against the Tesoro-Savage proposal during hearings. Likewise, the companies will be able to push back, presenting their own arguments and evidence.

The evaluation council will eventually make a recommendation to Inslee, who has the final say. Even then, opponents could still appeal the governor’s decision to the state Supreme Court.

Wash. Port Releases New Lease Details For Oil-by-Rail Terminal

File photo of proposed site for an oil-by-rail terminal in Vancouver, Washington. | credit: Port of Vancouver USA


The Columbian

The Port of Vancouver on Wednesday released an updated version of its lease for the Northwest’s largest oil-by-rail transfer terminal, featuring fewer censored details but maintaining redactions of key issues the port considers sensitive.

The port released the updated version of its lease (429 pages in electronic format) with Tesoro Corp. and Savage Companies in response to multiple requests made in April by various parties, including the Columbian and The Oregonian newspapers, Theresa Wagner, the port’s communications manager, said Wednesday.

In the original version of the lease, the port had kept secret a total of 22 pieces of information. In the updated rendition, the port revealed 11 of those 22 pieces of information, Wagner said.

One revelation: The port is allowed to terminate the lease if Tesoro and Savage fail to launch construction within four months after both parties are presumed to have fulfilled certain other contractual obligations.

Previously, the port had censored the companies’ construction timeline.

Still kept a secret, however, are the number of months — since the effective date of the lease — the port and companies have to cancel the lease early if either party fails to meet their contractual obligations.

Exactly how those obligations, known as “conditions precedent,” work isn’t entirely clear. An obvious allowed reason for cancelling the deal is if Tesoro and Savage fail to obtain permits from state regulators.

The companies submitted their permit application to the state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council on Aug. 29, seeking to handle as much as 380,000 barrels of oil per day for eventual conversion into transportation fuel. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has the final say over the project.

Another disclosure the port made Wednesday: If Tesoro and Savage move a certain average volume of oil per day for 30 months after they start making rent payments to the port, then the companies get to keep exclusive rights to run an oil terminal at the port.

The port, under that scenario, wouldn’t be able to lease property to a new tenant who also wants to handle crude oil.

Previously, the port had censored how long the companies would have to maintain certain oil volumes to keep their exclusivity rights.

However, the oil volumes — and the date on which the companies start paying rent to the port — are still unknown, because the port kept them redacted in the updated version of its lease.

The port also maintained redactions of the amounts of wharf and dockage fees it will charge Tesoro and Savage. Those unknown fees are in addition to lease revenue that’s already known: The agreement involves 42 acres and is worth at least $45 million to the port over an initial 10 years.

The port is maintaining certain redactions under the Uniform Trade Secrets Act, saying that if certain pieces of information were made public, it would harm the port in various ways, including damaging its competitiveness and its ability to negotiate

Wagner said the port chose to reveal certain pieces of information because they’ve either become known from the Tesoro-Savage permit application or by way of public presentations given by the companies.

However, a Vancouver city attorney has questioned the port’s redactions. In a Feb. 18 email to the port, two weeks after he’d received and reviewed the lease, Bronson Potter, chief assistant city attorney, wrote that it’s “doubtful that any of the information redacted would qualify as being a ‘trade secret.’?”

The port’s lease also gives Tesoro and Savage first rights on leasing additional property to expand if the average amount of oil moved by the first facility exceeds certain barrels-per-day targets. Those targets remain unknown, because the port kept them secret in the updated version of its lease.

Tesoro and Savage would have to seek another round of permits to expand or build another facility.

Port of Vancouver gets partial win in oil lawsuit

Associated Press

VANCOUVER, Wash. (AP) – A Clark County judge has given a partial victory to the Port of Vancouver in a lawsuit over a proposed oil terminal.

The Columbian reports Superior Court Judge David Gregerson has dismissed a claim by three environmental groups.

The decision means the lease – worth at least $45 million over 10 years – has been approved. The judge’s ruling could be appealed, but the environmental impact study will go forward.

At the same time, Gregerson said there’s a “public benefit” in allowing Columbia Riverkeeper, the Sierra Club and Northwest Environmental Defense Center to pursue their separate complaint that the port violated the state Open Public Meetings Act by holding an illegal secret meeting to discuss the lease.

Tesoro Corp. and Savage Cos. want to build a $110 million oil terminal capable of handling as much as 380,000 barrels of crude per day, a proposal that’s attracted strong public opposition.

Outside the courtroom Friday, Brett VandenHeuvel, executive director of Columbia Riverkeeper, said the decision was a victory, allowing the groups to gather facts, including what port commissioners discussed during a July 22 executive session.

VandenHeuvel declined to comment on whether the groups would appeal Gregerson’s decision involving the state environmental law.

“We are pleased with the result of the judge’s ruling,” port Executive Director Todd Coleman said in a news release. “We look forward to continuing our efforts to create a prosperous Clark County in a responsible and sustainable manner. The port will continue to work collaboratively with the environmental community and other stakeholders as the Tesoro-Savage project is reviewed” by the state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council and Gov. Jay Inslee.

Tesoro and Savage submitted their permit application for the oil terminal on Aug. 29 to the state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council. The council will eventually make a recommendation to Inslee, who has the final say over whether the oil terminal gets built.