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Vancouver Port Could Decide Oil Terminal Fate Next Week

Backers of a proposed oil terminal at the Port of Vancouver have asked for an amendment to their lease with the port. Port commissioners plan to discuss the request in a series of public meetings next week.

Officials with the Vancouver Energy Project said Tuesday they need more time to complete Washington’s permitting process.

"The Washington State Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council (EFSEC) evaluation is designed by state statue as a one-year process and it was never anticipated to take this long,” Tina Barbee, a spokeswoman for the project wrote in an email. "We believe the Port Commission should allow the EFSEC process to conclude and Governor (Jay) Inslee to make a decision."

The proposed terminal is a joint-venture backed by Tesoro Corp., an oil company, and Savage Industries, a logistics firm.

Under the current lease, the terminal’s backers have three years to get the permits they need — and that three-year window runs out in August.

If the deadline isn’t met, the lease allows the port or the project’s backers the ability to exit the contract.

It’s highly unlikely, if not impossible, for the Vancouver Energy Project to win state approval by August. A major component of Washington’s environmental review won’t be completed until the end of July.

If built, it would by the largest oil-by-rail terminal in the country and capable of moving 360,000 barrels of crude oil daily from the Bakken region of Montana and North Dakota. The oil would travel through the Columbia River Gorge to Vancouver. From there, it would be loaded onto ships bound for West Coast refineries.

Tesoro-Savage has said in the past that the terminal would create about 300 construction jobs in the short term and another 200 jobs once it’s up and running. Despite the low price of oil, project backers have said the terminal is needed to meet the West Coast’s demand.

Additional details about the company’s request to the port weren’t available Tuesday, but a port spokeswoman said more information would be released in the coming days.

A person with knowledge of the request said commissioners were planning to hold two meetings next week to discuss the port’s lease with Tesoro-Savage.

Officials are reportedly planning a nearly 12-hour meeting April 12 at Clark College’s Gaiser Hall in Vancouver to take comment from the public.

Commissioners are then scheduled to hold a meeting at the port’s offices April 15 to discuss the lease, and possibly vote on whether to grant Tesoro-Savage’s request.

The project has received strong resistance at past port commission meetings, something observers said they expect to see again next week.

“We expect very large crowds at the port commission meetings,” said Brett VandenHeuvel, executive director of Columbia Riverkeeper, a nonprofit environmental group that has actively opposed the terminal.

“Tesoro’s failed to meet its milestones and the port should seize this chance to shed this failed project,” he said.

Still, a poll conducted last month for the Port of Vancouver found the public split on the terminal: 43 percent supported the project, 42 percent opposed and 15 percent were undecided.

The poll was conducted by Riley Research Associates. They spoke to 450 registered voters in the port district, evenly split between the three sub-districts. The poll has a margin of error of +/- 4.6 percent.

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<p>Protesters opposing an oil terminal at the Port of Vancouver gathered in 2014 outside the Clark County Public Service Center before a meeting there of the state&rsquo;s Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council.</p>

Troy Wayrynen/The Columbian


Protesters opposing an oil terminal at the Port of Vancouver gathered in 2014 outside the Clark County Public Service Center before a meeting there of the state’s Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council.

Conrad Wilson is a reporter and producer covering criminal justice and legal affairs for OPB.