For the seventh time, a decision on a controversial Vancouver oil terminal has been pushed back.
The Washington state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council, or EFSEC, voted to extend the application deadline for the oil by rail project to Nov. 30. The additional extension allows EFSEC more time to make a decision on whether or not to recommend the project to Washington Gov. Jay Inslee.
In a surprise announcement, EFSEC Chair Bill Lynch will likely no longer be a part of that process. After the vote to extend the deadline, Lynch told the council he would be stepping down.
Lynch has served as council chair since 2013, when the Vancouver oil terminal project was first introduced. It’s not clear why Lynch is leaving, but it’s at an unusual time. The council is just months away from making a decision on the project.
Lynch did not return calls for comment, but Inslee’s office confirmed his resignation letter arrived there on Thursday.
“We are committed to a smooth transition so that the Council can continue its work without interruption,” the governor’s spokeswoman, Tara Lee, wrote in an email. “The plan to replace him follows our procedure for new appointments and goes through the governor’s boards and commissions office, with input from our policy staff and stakeholders.”
The $210 million Vancouver Energy terminal, backed by Tesoro-Savage, would receive about four crude oil trains a day. The oil would be stored on site and later transferred to ships on the Columbia River. At full capacity, as many as 360,000 barrels of crude oil would pass through the terminal on a daily basis.
Despite the delay, Vancouver Energy spokesman remains confident about the proposed terminal.
“Uncertainty around timeframes is a challenge of course, but the need for critical energy infrastructure on the U.S. West Coast is still a major issue that needs to be addressed,” Hymas said by phone. “We still think this project is very important and that the governor will have every reason to approve it.”
With a final decision on the oil terminal likely stretching into next year, even more focus will be on the Port of Vancouver elections this fall, when voters will decide between Kris Greene, a candidate in favor of the terminal, and Don Orange, who starkly opposes it.
“That means the next Port commission for the Port of Vancouver will have a bite at this apple,” said Dan Serres, conservation director for Columbia Riverkeeper. Serres has been vocal in his criticism of the oil terminal and argues that EFSEC should stop extending the deadline and just reject the proposal outright.
“It’s clear that this is a very bad fit for Vancouver and the Columbia River,” Serres said.
EFSEC staff say no other project has taken longer to resolve than the proposed oil terminal in Vancouver. The council has been mulling the decision since 2013 and has received hundreds of thousands of written comments and heard from thousands of people at public comment meetings across the state, including a quasi-judicial hearing in Vancouver last year.
Once EFSEC makes a recommendation, Gov. Inslee will have 60 days to make a final decision.
The last opportunity for public comment on the project is scheduled for Tuesday Aug. 22, when the council will take up the terminal’s industrial stormwater permit. It will be held from 1 to 9 p.m. at Clark College Columbia Tech Center in Vancouver. Testimony can also be sent online or by mail.