Top executives from the companies behind a proposed oil terminal at the Port of Vancouver said Tuesday that they believe it’s premature to take a stand against the project before the review has fully played out.
Tesoro Corp. and Savage Companies officials are in Vancouver this week for a series of meetings with local leaders. Their visit comes a week after a majority of Vancouver City Council members publicly confirmed their opposition to the proposed oil-handling facility at the Port of Vancouver.
“What I hope is that people allow the process to bear itself out,” Nathan Savage, senior vice president of Savage Companies, said in an interview with The Columbian, where he was joined by four other executives Tuesday. “I think there are those that have rushed to judgment prematurely. I think that’s unfortunate.”
A crowd of at least 60 people showed up Tuesday morning along with the Tesoro and Savage executives for the Port of Vancouver Board of Commissioners meeting. In open public testimony, at least 30 people testified about the proposed oil terminal. All but one speaker opposed the project, and several asked the port commission to cancel its lease for the oil transfer terminal.
Tesoro and Savage want to build a $110 million facility capable of handling as much as 380,000 barrels of oil per day. Crude would arrive by rail from North Dakota, then be transferred to marine vessels on the way to U.S. refineries. The facility would generate 250 temporary construction jobs and 120 permanent jobs once it’s up and running, according to the companies, and boost local and state tax revenues.
Opponents of the project have seized on the environmental and safety risks posed by the facility. The proposal is currently in the hands of the state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council, which will make a recommendation before Gov. Jay Inslee ultimately decides its fate. The lengthy review will require a detailed environmental assessment and other hurdles in the coming months.
“It is very, very thorough, and it requires a tremendous commitment to work through that,” Savage said.
One high-profile voice against the project is Barry Cain, the developer of a $1.3 billion downtown waterfront revitalization project. Cain has insisted his waterfront development won’t go forward if the oil terminal wins approval, and cited a host of concerns with the Tesoro-Savage plan.
Top Tesoro and Savage officials have not met directly with Cain, said Keith Casey, senior vice president of strategy and business development for Tesoro. The companies believe Cain’s business relationship is with the port and the city of Vancouver, and Tesoro-Savage shouldn’t encroach on that, Savage said.
But the executives made it clear they don’t agree with Cain’s take pitting the oil terminal against his waterfront development.
“It is not an either-or (decision),” Savage said.
He and others noted that the port and nearby railroads have been on the Columbia for more than 100 years.
“I guess to me the question is, what’s changed? The port was planning to grow. It put in the infrastructure to grow,” said Tesoro vice president of corporate affairs Brian Sullivan. “We believe this project is an excellent fit with the port, and so what’s changed?”
The Tesoro-Savage facility would be the largest oil-handling terminal in the Northwest. But it wouldn’t bring an unfamiliar commodity into the region, Sullivan said.
“Oil trains go by there today,” he said. “They’re going to go by there tomorrow, and in the foreseeable future.”
The visiting Tesoro and Savage executives were on hand at the Port of Vancouver commissioners meeting for a commission discussion of a new port study that found a very low likelihood of a train derailment along a key segment of the port’s rail corridor.