Council deals blow to Vancouver oil terminal

Influential group recommends governor deny the project

The controversial Vancouver Energy crude oil terminal suffered another fatal blow this week, after the Washington Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council (EFSEC) voted Tuesday afternoon to recommend that the governor deny the project.

If built, the terminal, a joint venture between the Tesoro and Savage corporations, would be the largest crude oil terminal in the United States.

The project would bring 360,000 barrels of highly flammable Bakken crude oil into the Port of Vancouver every day, via trains that roll straight through Columbia River Gorge communities, including Camas and Washougal.

Since being proposed in 2013, the project has garnered opponents — including the cities of Washougal, Vancouver and Portland, Clark County, the Vancouver Firefighters Union, Columbia Riverkeeper, several Native American Indian tribes, Friends of the Columbia Gorge, the Sierra Club and the Washington Environmental Council — who say the project poses enormous risks to the environment and to human health.

In November, the EFSEC members heard key findings from the final Environmental Impact Statement on the Vancouver Energy project, which found that, even with recommended mitigation measures the oil terminal posed “significant, unavoidable, adverse environmental impacts.”

On Monday, the EFSEC, the body charged with sending a recommendation to Gov. Jay Inslee, voted unanimously to submit a recommendation to deny the project and directed staff to draft its final recommendation report, which will be presented to the council for approval at a meeting on Dec. 19. After the final report is approved in December, EFSEC will submit a formal recommendation to the governor by Dec. 29. The governor has 60 days after receiving the report to make his final decision.

EFSEC held a short, 10-minute public meeting in Olympia on Tuesday to vote on the project, but did not take public comment.

At past EFSEC meetings, opponents and proponents have turned out in large numbers and kept the meeting going for several hours.

In January of 2016, the council heard more than 14 hours’ worth of public testimony, spaced over two days at the Clark County Event Center in Ridgefield.

Tim Young, chairman of the Skamania County Fire District 4 Commission, turned out at the Jan. 5 EFSEC meeting to oppose the project, and said he was concerned about injuries or fatalities if a crude oil fire or explosion occurred along the area’s rail transportation corridor. The district provides fire protection and emergency medical services at the west end of Skamania County. That includes a portion of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area.

In a press release sent to media Tuesday, the Cowlitz Indian Tribe, which has a reservation near La Center in north Clark County, thanked EFSEC for their decision and stated, “Vancouver Energy would have operated for 20 years, but could have impacted the lower Columbia River ecosystems and communities for decades. We presented our concerns about air quality, water quality and environmental quality. We now ask Governor Inslee to accept the Council’s recommendation.”

Vancouver Energy spokesperson Jeff Hymas said Tuesday: “We are extremely disappointed, especially after a review of more than four years in a process that state law says should take one year.”

Hymas said EFSEC had set “an impossible standard for new energy facilities based on the risk of incidents that the Final Environmental Impact Statement characterizes as extremely unlikely,” adding that the decision “sends a clear anti-development message that will have a chilling effect on business in the state of Washington.”

To watch Tuesday’s EFSEC meeting, visit www.tvw.org. To read key findings from the final Environmental Impact Statement sent to EFSEC members in November, visit www.efsec.wa.gov/Tesoro%20Savage/FEIS/FEIS_PAGE.shtml.