Grays Harbor could become part of the crude oil industry as soon as April 2014 if Westway Terminal Company is permitted to begin construction on an oil-storage facility this summer. But the project is meeting some resistance, with some Grays Harbor residents expressing concerns that transporting oil to and from the port could damage the environment.
Protestors gathered outside of the Aberdeen Elks Lodge Tuesday, where Greater Grays Harbor hosted a forum about the project. About 15 people held signs and a giant, inflatable globe while waving at passing traffic.
“We really don’t want to see oil coming in here,” said protester Kevin Gavalis. “All we’d need is one big spill and we’d be ruined. So much of our local economy depends on fishing and oysters. And that would all be gone.”
But the atmosphere inside the lodge was markedly different — many of the 75 people attending the forum support the project. Callie White, a spokeswoman for Greater Grays Harbor, said her group approves of the Westway project, seeing it as something that will only improve the local economy.
“If we thought there was any conflict between the environment and the economy, we wouldn’t have gone ahead with our endorsement,” White said. “But it’s a free country and we have no problem with their protest, as long as it’s peaceful and respectful.”
Ken Shoemake, regional manager for Westway Terminal Company, presented a plan for the expansion of the company’s current Grays Harbor facility. Westway is one of three companies hoping to bring crude oil by rail to Grays Harbor.
The company doesn’t play any part in refining oil. Shoemake said other companies would pay to have their oil shipped to Grays Harbor, where Westway would store product and load it on barges. The company is well equipped to protect the harbor’s environmental interests, Shoemake said. All but two of Westway’s 20 international locations handle tranfers from trains to storage tanks to barges — all with considerable success, he said.
Protecting the environment “is part of our everyday business, it’s what we do,” Shoemake said. “We know that Grays Harbor houses a lot of fishing interests, you have oysters and you have migratory birds. And we’re sensitive to that.”
Showmake said the company hopes to build four new storage tanks, which would hold 200,000 barrels of crude oil. The added storage would allow the terminal to handle about 10 million gallons of crude oil each year. Westway also has plans to build new docks, which would allow the oil to be loaded on barges. The expansion is expected to generate 20 local jobs, and more employment opportunities for longshoremen. Shoemake said the company also plans on hiring local workers for construction.
“We’re hoping that we don’t have to import people,” Shoemake said.
Additions to the facility must meet several sets of guidelines from the United States Coast Guard, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Washington State Department of Ecology and other regulatory entities. Plans for the new tanks include seismic protection and a containment wall that would prevent oil from spilling into the harbor.
“We are not going to build something slipshod,” Shoemake said. “This is going to be a state-of-the-art facility.”