Forum set for Wednesday on oil exporting proposals at the Port


Each of the three proposals to ship crude oil by rail and sea through the Port of Grays Harbor are in different stages of consideration, with only one now being formally considered for permits.

Representative from all three companies — Imperium Terminal Services LLC, Westway Terminals Co. and US Development Group LLC — will be in attendance Wednesday when the Port will hold a public workshop to answer some of the questions that already have been the subject of some debate locally.

In a letter to Port officials, Arnie Martin, Grays Harbor Audubon Society chapter president, complained about the format originally set up for the meeting, which did not call for a formal question-and-answer session.

“If there is enough project information available to hold a meeting, there should be a public question-and-answer period to address the concerns of those who might be affected by these three very similar projects,” Martin said.

The format, however, now has been modified and there will be a session where the public can directly ask questions and then later meet one-on-one with the officials.

In addition to the companies, representatives from Greater Grays Harbor Inc., Puget Sound & Pacific Railroad, the state Department of Ecology and the U.S. Coast Guard also will be on hand to present information. Also attending will be Hoquiam City Administrator Brain Shay and Hoquiam Fire Chief Paul Dean, because the city will be the lead permitting agency should all three proposals move forward.

The workshop is at the Aberdeen Rotary Log Pavilion. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. There will be an overview presentation at 6 p.m. by Port Executive Director Gary Nelson.

Martin has questioned the impact two of the proposals would have on rail traffic, but noted that there is little known about the Imperium plan, since the company only recently announced its intentions through the Port earlier this month as part of a request to lease 11 acres next to their existing facility.

In the latest edition of “The Sandpiper,” the Audubon Society’s monthly newsletter, Marin encourages members to attend the meeting.

“Hopefully, the meeting will provide additional details, including the ultimate destination of the crude oil which will be shipped from each of the terminals,” Martin said. “The building of these terminals will benefit the oil companies that ship the crude, but they each will contribute to the increase in CO2 in the atmosphere.”

Port spokeswoman Shelli Hopsecger, who helped coordinate participants and information for the meeting, refuted contentions that the Port was trying to prevent public participation in the process. After Nelson’s overview, he will take questions and then open it up to the workshop format, she said.

“That’s where people can get direct answers,” Hopsecger said.

All three projects would be in the city limits of Hoquiam, which means that any permit to begin operations starts there. So far, only Westway has reached that stage.

WESTWAY TERMINALS

Westway Terminals Vice President of Operations and Engineering Robbie Johnson has confirmed the company has submitted permit applications to the City of Hoquiam for two new storage tanks where oil will be received by rail, stored and then shipped by sea from the Port. The Westway permit request is to handle up to 9.6 million barrels of crude per year, which roughly equates to 128 trains per year, or one train every three days, Johnson has said.

The proposal, dated Nov. 7, is to build the additional two tanks with a capacity of 8.4 million gallons. Westway plans to add 10 to 18 new employees if the proposal is approved.

US DEVELOPMENT

US Development is a private company operating since 1995, specializing in the rail market with a number of logistics terminals around the country. The company is headquartered in Houston, with 12 new large-scale terminals built over the past 10 years. Terminals are in New York Harbor, Baltimore, Louisiana, Southern California, North Dakota, Colorado and Texas.

In meetings with the Port and the public, Kevin LaBorne, the company’s business and development manager, said his company has been studying Terminal 3 since September and will likely decide on the site early next year. The company formed Grays Harbor Rail Terminal LLC and entered into an access agreement on Sept. 11 with the Port to “conduct certain feasibility studies” at the site for a “train/marine crude oil terminal.”

Preliminary plans include a storage yard and rail offloading area, and LaBorne said the company expects to create 30 to 50 jobs on the rail side of the proposal and a number of other longshore and dock worker jobs to load the crude oil onto ships. if the facility is approved and permitted, estimates are for as many as two trains a day and five ship calls a month at the site.

IMPERIUM

The Imperium interest was first made public in a discussion over a lease arrangement with the company that has specialized in biofuels. At the Jan. 10 Port Commission meeting, Port Attorney Art Blauvelt said the existing lease with Imperium, executed in 2006, gives the company the option to lease the property for the operation of a bulk liquid storage and processing facility.

It allows for the shipping of and receiving of bulk liquids, such as crude oil, by truck, rail and vessel through the Port’s marine terminal complex, Blauvelt said. The lease would be in effect until 2031. Rent would be subject to fair-market increases, with payments in excess of $10,000 per month, bringing in a total of $129,000 in revenue.

Hopsecger noted that even the Port does not know much about the latest plans from Imperium.

“As far as any specific information, they haven’t gotten a lot at this point,” she said. “That’s a project that is probably in the early analysis stage right now.”

POSSIBLE IMPACTS

In addition to his role with the local Audubon Society, Martin helped organize a group known as Citizens for a Clean Harbor last year when the Port was studied as a possible site for a coal terminal, a preliminary idea abandoned in August by RailAmerica shortly before US Development began looking at Terminal 3 for the crude oil shipping site. RailAmerica is the parent company of Puget Sound & Pacific Railroad, which would provide the rail service for the shipments.

Martin said the group has many concerns about the number of trains as well as potential responses to spills or possible accidents and also questions the impact such train traffic would have on the community.

“These projects may have significant environmental issues associated with them and have profound effects on fish, crab, salmon and other marine resources,” Martin writes. “

Not to mention what a potential spill would mean to shorebirds and other migratory fowl.”

ALL THREE?

While all three possible plans are fueled by the growing need to transport oil largely from the Bakken Formation in North Dakota and other North America oil fields, it is unclear if all three would proceed should one be permitted before the others.

Hopsecger said the Port is proceeding as if all three would be operating. Nelson has said that “one doesn’t exclude the other.”

“It just depends on how far the companies get in moving forward with their own analysis and process, and then secure contracts with suppliers,” Hopsecger said.

For more information, the Port has set up a web page about the crude oil export plans and process: http://www.portofgraysharbor.com/about/CBR-Project.php