About 400 people packed a conference center at the University of Portland Monday evening to figure out ways to block work at the Zenith Energy oil terminal.

About 400 people packed a conference center at the University of Portland Monday evening to figure out ways to block work at the Zenith Energy oil terminal.

Kristian Foden-Vencil/OPB

About 400 people packed a conference center at University of Portland Monday evening to oppose the expansion of the Zenith Energy oil terminal.

The community forum was organized by the City of Portland.

Mayor Ted Wheeler told the crowd he shares their worries about more oil trains going through the city’s densely populated neighborhoods.

“And I’m also concerned, as your mayor, about the possibility of future fossil fuel exports from the city of Portland. From my perspective, that’s a non-starter,” said Ted Wheeler.

Several ideas surfaced for blocking Zenith, such as changing city codes to limit fossil fuel development; requiring the company have full insurance for a catastrophic accident; or tightening city seismic requirements.

Kate Murphy with Columbia Riverkeeper urged the city to block all Zenith permits, even if it’s only for an electrical system.

“Remember, it was a single pipe-link across an environmental overlay zone that allowed the city of Portland to review and ultimately reject the Pembina LPG terminal years ago,” said Murphy.

Portland Commissioner Chloe Eudaly told the crowd she didn’t tour the facility because she already knows tar sands are dirty and dangerous. She suggested three areas of action.

“One is to revise and expand our current code which limits fossil fuel development. Two, quicken our work to transition to clean, renewable fuels. And three, in the meantime require fossil fuel companies to pay for the risk that the fossil fuel industry presents to our community,” said Eudaly.

Zenith sent OPB a statement saying it is not expanding its facility. Company officials maintain it’s working to update the rail yard and storage tanks to make them safer.

“Upon purchasing the Portland terminal, Zenith undertook a project to modernize the facility, making it safer for employees, community and the environment. Contrary to what has been written, Zenith is not expanding the facility,” the company insisted in its statement to OPB.

“When we initiated this project, the terminal was able to hold 44 railcars and, upon completion, the terminal will still hold 44 railcars,” Zenith officials said.

“We are also not adding additional storage capacity; we are refurbishing existing tanks and making them more resilient. Our plans coincide with the City’s 2016 ordinance for fossil fuel terminals.”

The company said a large part of its business plan for Portland is to attract renewable fuels including renewable diesel, biofuels and ethanol.

“In the Pacific Northwest, these fuels move almost exclusively by rail or water from their production facilities to consumption areas. We agree with the need for lower carbon fuels and our goal is for Zenith to be the primary renewable logistics hub in the Portland area,” said the Zenith statement.

As the meeting came to a close, Terry Whitehill, a building official with the City of Portland told the crowd that Zenith had just received a temporary certificate of occupancy for an oil terminal upgrade.

The certificate allows the company to begin using its newly-built racking system for unloading tank cars.

“Decisions on permit applications are made according to the regulations that are in effect when the application is submitted,” said Whitehill.

“Zenith originally filed their permit application with the City in 2014, two years prior to the City Council adopting amendments to the Portland Zoning Code related to fossil fuel terminals,” Whitehill laid out, in a statement that was released by the Bureau of Development Services in a press release after the meeting.

“The City cannot change the goalposts now and apply new, different requirements after the applicant has already submitted their permit application and been approved for construction,” Whitehill concluded. 

The BDS statement said the upgrade will make the terminal significantly safer by incorporating a new fire suppression system, a spill containment facility and  sprinklers. 

The BDS statement supports Zenith’s contention that the plans it submitted do not represent an expansion of the capacity of the existing storage tanks. Bureau officials said Zenith will be issued an approval, called a Temporary Certificate of Occupancy, on July 18.