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  • 23 Sep 2014

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Vancouver City Council opposes Tesoro oil terminal

Monday night had turned to Tuesday morning by the time the Vancouver City Council voted to pass a non-binding resolution opposing what would be the Northwest’s largest oil-by-rail shipping facility.

The vote was 5-2 with Mayor Tim Leavitt and Councilor Bill Turlay dissenting. It followed six hours of testimony from residents, most of them opposed to the Port of Vancouver’s planned facility that would transfer North Dakota crude oil from trains to ships bound for West Coast refineries.

It was after 1 a.m. when City Councilor Bart Hansen made a motion to pass the resolution, which expresses deep concern about rail safety, oil spills and explosions and urges Washington Gov. Jay Inslee not to approve the Tesoro Savage oil terminal.

The council debated whether or not to take the vote in the wee hours of the morning. Turlay said he wasn’t ready to take action. Leavitt said he wanted to make some changes to the resolution before voting.

“I’ve been told nothing good happens after midnight,” Leavitt joked in pushing to delay the vote. “I know there are ways to improve the resolution. I hope we can get to a unanimous vote. Certainly, I’m not supportive of it as it is now.”

But other councilors pushed ahead. Councilor Anne McEnerny-Ogle said two-thirds of the testimony and comments she’s heard are from people opposed to the project.

“When I look at all the different e-mails that have come back, the voice says that for this community, this doesn’t work for us.”

By the time the board voted a crowd that had started out in the hundreds had dwindled to a few dozen.

More than 170 people signed up to testify at the hearing.

Even before the resolution was formally taken up, a majority of the city council had voiced opposition to the Tesoro-Savage oil terminal.

Don Orange, owner of Hoesly Eco-Automotive of Vancouver, told the council that he’s angry about the prospect of “thousands of pounds of filth” coming into his neighborhood and hurting his business.

“You can call this a terminal. To me, it’s a toilet,” he said. “It’s coming in here on a freight train and we’re flushing it off into ships. This small businessman thinks it stinks.”

On the other side, Port Commissioner Jerry Oliver expressed sadness that the council would consider opposing the project he thinks will benefit the country as a whole by distributing more domestically produced oil to U.S. refineries.

“It makes me sad, not so much that you’re turning your back on the Port of Vancouver, but that you have so little faith in our ability as a community to make this happen,” Oliver said.

The Tesoro Savage oil terminal would transport up to 380,000 barrels of crude oil a day. The oil would come from North Dakota’s Bakken fields by trains, be transferred to vessels on the Columbia River and then shipped to West Coast refineries. It’s the largest oil terminal project among several proposed in the Northwest.

While project supporters noted that the city council doesn’t have the authority to stop the project, opponents of the project said it’s important that the city council let the governor know where it stands.

“It’s difficult to imagine the governor supporting this project if the city of Vancouver opposes it,” said Clark County resident Don Steinke.

Project supporters defended the safety record of Tesoro Corp. and Savage Companies. Earlier this year, Tesoro committed to using newer rail cars that meet higher safety standards.

Many who testified in support of the project were employees of Tesoro Corp. and Savage Companies. They told the council that they appreciate the jobs and economic development the oil terminal would bring to the area and vouched for the companies’ track records in treating their employees well.

Jared Larrabee, general manager for Tesoro, said the resolution opposing the project is premature because the Washington Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council hasn’t completed its environmental review.

Todd Coleman, director of Port of Vancouver, criticized the city’s resolution and said it would damage the port’s ability to do business.

“You can’t have it both ways,” he told the board. “You can’t have a thriving port and all the things that come with that success and then attempt to choose between cargo. A vote for this resolution is a vote against this community’s ability to attract private sector business.”