Port says oil best bet for economic growth

Three crude oil storage and shipping facilities proposed in Hoquiam could create about 100 jobs and may be the Port of Grays Harbor’s best bet for economic growth, Port Executive Director Gary Nelson told Aberdeen Rotary Club members Wednesday.

The three projects are early in the permitting stages, Nelson said. Westway Terminals, Imperium Renewables and U.S. Development plan to invest more than $100 million collectively in the projects. The first two companies hope to expand existing facilities in the heart of the Port’s operations, and U.S. Development plans a completely new facility — with the largest storage capacity — near the Bowerman Field airport and national wildlife refuge.

The oil would arrive by rail and leave in tankers or barges. The City of Hoquiam recently issued a shoreline permit to Westway Terminal Company, and Imperium Renewables’ permit will likely follow soon. U.S. Development is still developing plans.

Westway has owned and operated a liquid storage facility on Grays Harbor since 2009 and is hoping to build four additional 200,000-barrel storage tanks so it can begin storing crude oil. Imperium Renewables has operated in the area since 2007 and plans on adding nine 80,000-barrel storage tanks to its facility. U.S. Development is still working on plans, but Nelson said the company is hoping to build tanks to hold between 800,000 and 1 million barrels of crude oil.

Nelson said each of the three companies will need to obtain 13 permits before building in the area, and 13 additional permits before beginning operations. These permits are awarded by numerous state and local agencies.

The City of Hoquiam awarded Westway a shoreline permit April 27. City Administrator Brian Shay said residents have 21 days from the issue date to file an appeal with the state Shorelines Hearings Board.

“We’ve never had an appeal filed based on a shoreline permit we’ve issued,” Shay said. “But because of the controversial nature of this project, I wouldn’t be surprised. But everything is within regulations.”

The city must also award building permits and conditional land use permits before the companies can begin construction. Shay said Westway hasn’t yet filed building permit paperwork, but the city is in the process of issuing a conditional land use permit. The conditional land use permit is necessary when structures exceed the city’s 55-foot height limit. The Westway crude oil storage tanks will be 64 feet tall.

The city will host a public hearing regarding the conditional use permit May 16, and a land use examiner will decide whether to award the permit. Citizens concerned that tanks will block their views are welcome to testify, Shay said.

“I can’t imagine them not getting the permit because AGP has 88-foot grain tanks (already) located immediately behind that site,” Shay said.

Nelson said Port officials are also considering the impact crude by rail may have on the local railway line. Grays Harbor residents can expect between nine and 12 additional trains each week when the Westway, Imperium and U.S. Development facilities are operating at full capacity. He said Port officials are considering strengthening railway bridges and installing railroad crossing arms. However, they won’t be re-routing the tracks.

“They put that rail there 100 years ago, and probably for a very good reason,” Nelson said. “There aren’t many places you could move it to.”

The state Department of Transportation recently awarded the Grays Harbor Council of Governments $600,000 to study potential access improvements to the Gateway Mall, as that area could be significantly affected by increased rail traffic.