Westway oil shipping, storage passes early environmental test

Westway Terminal Co.’s effort to expand its operation at the Port of Grays Harbor to include crude oil storage and shipping took a small but important step forward Thursday. A review of the potential environmental impacts found it likely won’t require more in-depth reports, possibly easing the permitting process going forward.

After more than three months of review and revision by the City of Hoquiam and state Department of Ecology, the plan received a “Mitigated Determination of Nonsignificance,” meaning that under the State Environmental Policy Act review, the Department of Ecology and the City of Hoquiam agreed that the company’s proposed mitigation efforts would make up for its environmental impacts. The two entities have been co-lead agencies on the review.

“Throughout the process, they submitted a revised SEPA checklist that we continued to review as they submitted additional information,” City Administrator Brian Shay said.

The finding itself doesn’t progress the project forward or grant it any kind of approval, but the SEPA review is an important part of a variety of permitting processes Westway will face as the process continues. The finding may also change in response to public comment, which will be accepted through March 29.

“I always think of this as step one in the permitting process,” explained Linda Kent, Ecology’s communications manager for the Olympic and Southwest regions.

There are three possible findings of a SEPA review: nonsignificance, meaning the project wouldn’t have an impact; mitigated nonsignificance, meaning the project would have impacts on the environment, but the company has made plans to alleviate those impacts; or significance, meaning the project would impact the environment and the company doesn’t have an effective plan to deal with those impacts.

Projects that significantly impact the environment can be required to complete an in-depth and often costly Environmental Impact Statement outlining the impacts, alternatives and compliance with environmental laws.

“We have enough information to be comfortable that an EIS is not required,” said Sally Toteff, Ecology’s director for the Southwest region.

The finding was easier because not only does the project avoid any in-water work such as adding docks, but the site is already used for similar operations.

“Impacts from a site like this that already exists and operates are much lower than would be true of an undeveloped site. The determination would be much different if this was just a vacant lot,” said Paula Ehlers of the Shorelands Program in Ecology’s Southwest Regional Office.

Before Westway gets a certificate of occupancy allowing the crude oil project to go forward, it will have to perform an analysis and propose mitigations for impacts of its rail transports on other rail and local vehicle traffic.

Westway’s proposal would add four 200,000-barrel (8.4-million-gallon) storage tanks for crude oil south of the company’s existing storage tanks.

In the approval documents, Westway estimates it would receive 403.2 million gallons of oil per year, or the equivalent of two 120-car trains every three days, one loaded, one empty.

The vessels transporting oil, about 60 per year, will be escorted by tug boats, and pilots will be on board entering and leaving the port. A terminal operator will be ready to initiate a shut down at any time during the loading and unloading processes.

A spill team will be stationed 1,000 feet downstream during loading and unloading, and spill equipment will be stored in Westport, Hoquiam, Aberdeen, Central Park and Olympia. The equipment includes skimming systems, piping and booms. A detailed spill response plan would be submitted and approved by the Coast Guard before the facility starts operating.

New rail lines will be built on angled concrete, sloped toward a sump to collect any spilled oil. The rail area would have the capacity to contain the volume of one rail car, plus rainwater.

Before construction starts, Westway would have to obtain 13 permits or approvals, and another 13 before it starts operating the new features.

The SEPA documents are available at the city’s website, www.cityofhoquiam.com, or at City Hall, 609 8th St. Comments may be submitted in writing to City Hall or by email to Shay at bshay@cityofhoquiam.com.