UPDATED (Wednesday, Nov. 29, 8:55 a.m.): Washington state's Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council voted unanimously Tuesday to turn down a controversial oil terminal planned for Vancouver, Washington.
The council’s decision to not recommend the project is another major blow against the massive oil-by-rail facility proposed by Vancouver Energy.
It’s also one of the last steps in a years-long permitting process to develop the oil terminal. The ultimate decision on whether the project goes forward will be up to Washington Gov. Jay Inslee.
“It has been a long process with voluminous information — probably the longest process in council’s history,” EFSEC Chairperson Roselyn Marcus said before the decision, noting that the council reviewed 250,000 public comments.
A final environmental review was released by the council a week ago. It found the project poses significant potential risks, including oil spills, train accidents and longer emergency response times due to road traffic.
Public hearings for the terminal have often been filled with crowds of people protesting the project and noting environmental concerns. Tuesday’s meeting was no exception.
Hundreds of people packed into the meeting chambers and adjacent overflow rooms filled up quickly.
The meeting in Olympia moved quickly, lasting about 10 minutes. Clark County Public Works employee Greg Shafer made the motion to recommend disapproval of Vancouver Energy’s application, arguing that the company has “not met its burden to establish the Port of Vancouver is an acceptable location to site the proposed Vancouver Energy distribution terminal.”
The council passed the motion unanimously to an eruption of cheers from terminal opponents who celebrated on the steps of the capitol following the meeting.
Many had driven to Olympia from Vancouver to attend the hearing, including Vancouver resident Carrie Parks. She’s spent the past four years showing up at local meetings and canvassing against the terminal. Parks said she’s still in shock that the council voted against the project.
“We were kind of waiting for the other shoe to drop. And for them to have some ifs, ands or buts. And when they didn’t it was a surprise – a good surprise,” she added.
That’s because it’s rare for EFSEC to outright deny a project, much less in a unanimous decision. Typically, the energy panel will recommend a list of conditions or changes.
EFSEC staff said at least one other project was unanimously rejected by the council. In 2001, all EFSEC council members denied recommendation for the Sumas Energy 2 Generation Facility, a gas-fired power plant in northwestern Washington.
“We feel like our work made a difference and that democracy really works,” said Parks.
“It’s like an early Christmas present,” said Elke Littleleaf, who drove up with his wife Alysia from Warm Springs, Oregon.
The Littleleafs own a fly fishing tour company on the Lower Deschutes River. Both felt it was important to come to Olympia to represent indigenous voices and protect the Columbia River.
If built, the terminal project would send four additional oil trains, carrying 360,000 barrels of oil, through the Columbia River Gorge daily.
“It’s just too grave of a risk in every factor,” said Alysia Littleleaf. “Anyone that fishes the Columbia River Gorge or depends on it should be concerned, and has every right to be here and celebrate with us.”
Vancouver Energy and its supporters have said the terminal would bring needed jobs and development to the Port of Vancouver. The company promised 300 construction jobs in the short term and another 200 jobs once the terminal was up and running.
“It was disappointing. It would have meant a lot of work,” said Deken Letinich, who works in the construction business in Vancouver and is one of about 500 local laborer union members.
“Every one of them could have used that opportunity to provide a family wage job for their family,” said Letinich.
“We are extremely disappointed, especially after a review of more than four years in a process that state law says should take one year,” a spokesman for Vancouver Energy said in a statement after Tuesday’s hearing.
Vancouver Energy said EFSEC has “set an impossible standard” for new energy facilities in the state.
“This decision sends a clear anti-development message that will have a chilling effect on business in the state,” the company added in its statement.
The door remains open for Vancouver Energy and other interested parties to take legal action. Once a recommendation is delivered to Inslee, either party will have 20 days to file a request for reconsideration.
Following a final decision from the governor, either party can file an appeal that could go straight to the Washington state Supreme Court.
Vancouver Energy suffered another major setback earlier this month when an opponent of the project, Don Orange, was elected to the Port of Vancouver board of commissioners.
Orange has promised to use his new position on the board to ensure the Port of Vancouver cancels its lease with Vancouver Energy.