Crude-by-rail projects moving through environmental review

As one crude-by-rail project moves ahead, another is at a standstill. Imperium Renewables has secured a shoreline substantial development permit from the City of Hoquiam and the state Department of Ecology, while Westway Terminal Co.’s permit is tied up in appeals.

Imperium was issued a permit on June 14, after which citizens have 21 days to file an appeal. The appeals filed against Westway’s shoreline substantial development permit won’t be resolved until early October.

The two companies hope to expand existing facilities in the heart of the Port of Grays Harbor operations. A third company, U.S. Development, is still in early planning stages for a completely new facility near Bowerman Field and the national wildlife refuge. Brian Shay, city administrator for Hoquiam, said U.S. Development hasn’t yet been issued any permits. It would have the largest storage capacity of the three.

Westway Terminals, Imperium Renewables and U.S. Development plan to invest more than $100 million collectively in the projects. The oil would arrive by rail and leave the port in tankers or barges. Product will likely be shipped to other ports in North America, but operations could expand to include Asia.

Imperium moving forward

The Imperium Renewables project is poised to move forward after being issued a shoreline substantial development permit June 14. The shoreline permit is one of 13 permits the company will need before beginning operations.

But city administrator Shay said he wouldn’t be surprised if the Imperium project met the same set of roadblocks as the Westway project, given the volume of public outcry from people who are concerned about environmental issues or increased train traffic.

The City of Hoquiam and state Department of Ecology received a flurry of public comments after issuing a mitigated determination of non-significance finding for the Imperium expansion. A ruling means the company had sufficient plans in place to offset any negative environmental impacts stemming from the project.

The agencies accepted public comments on the finding through June 3, receiving 25 comments from local individuals and groups. The Westway project received about 40 comments on its determination of non-significance finding.

“This round of comments was a lot smaller,” Shay said. “I think some people felt like their comments were heard during the Westway comment period.”

Many of the citizens raised concerns about oil spills, the impacts of oil shipping on the shellfish and tourism industries, the condition of local railroads and how the project will affect local birds.

Brady Engvall of Brady’s Oysters, between Aberdeen and Westport, wrote that a spill could destroy the local shellfish industry — which would, in turn, he said, destroy the Grays Harbor culture.

“The growers are held to the highest standards for the product we grow and sell to the public,” Engvall wrote. “Shellfish production provides employment, tax revenue and a cultural experience to the residents of Grays Harbor.”

Earthjustice, an environmental law firm, wrote a lengthy letter on behalf of the Quinault Indian Nation outlining a number of problems with the Imperium project.

“The Quinault Indian Nation has usual and accustomed fishing areas in Grays Harbor and the Chehalis River, and tribal members’ right to access currently used fishing, hunting, and gathering sites will be impacted by increased vessel and rail traffic. Grays Harbor and the tributaries that feed it are critical nursery areas for many Quinault harvested species, including Dungeness crab, an economically vital fishery on the coast of Washington. Additionally, an oil spill would devastate the fish, shellfish, eel grass, and cultural plant populations they rely on for commercial and subsidence harvest and cultural activities,” the letter reads.

The determination of non-significance finding did receive a few favorable comments: from Port of Grays Harbor Director Gary Nelson, from a port employee and from Mark Hopsecger, president of Coast Controls & Automation Inc. in Montesano.

Nelson approved of the finding with a few caveats. Unlike most of the people who commented, he said the plan was too restrictive of port and rail activity. But he ultimately agreed with the finding, saying damage done to the environment by the Imperium project would be more than offset by job creation.

Together, the Westway, Imperium and U.S. Development projects could create about 100 jobs.

Hopsecger wrote that he’s confident modern technology will allow Imperium to build a facility equipped with technology that will minimize spills and regulate pressures and temperatures.

“As an industrial instruments and controls professional, I know first-hand that today’s best control technology will allow Imperium to control their processes to a high level of accuracy while proving shut down mechanism should flows, pressures or temperatures reach levels outside standard operations,” Hopsecger wrote.

Westway project delayed

Robert Johnson, vice president of engineering for Westway, said his company had originally hoped to begin construction on an oil terminal this summer. But the project will be delayed by a few months, as two shoreline permit appeals filed by local groups won’t be resolved until early October.

The Quinault Indian Nation and a coalition composed of the Friends of Grays Harbor, the Grays Harbor Audubon Society, Citizens for a Clean Harbor, the Surfrider Foundation and the Sierra Club each filed appeals with the State Shoreline Hearings Board regarding a shoreline substantial development permit issued by the City of Hoquiam and the state Department of Ecology.

The city and Ecology issued the permit April 27, and the groups filed their appeals in mid-May. The appeals will be heard Sept. 30 through Oct. 4 in Tumwater.

Shay said he’s confident that the permit won’t be overturned, as the city and Department of Ecology covered all their bases. Johnson echoed Shay’s optimism.

“We feel confident that we have done everything right through the process,” Johnson said. “We expect the ruling to go in our favor.”

The appeal should set them back three or four months, Johnson estimated. He hopes to start construction within 45 days of the board’s ruling. This will give the company enough time to obtain building permits from the city.