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Vancouver Port Hears From Public On Oil Terminal Lease

<p>Port leaders heard hours of public testimony Tuesday.</p>

Conrad Wilson

Port leaders heard hours of public testimony Tuesday.

Commissioners at the Port of Vancouver are weighing whether or not to breathe new life into what could be the nation’s largest oil-by-rail terminal.

The project’s backers, oil company Tesoro Corp. and logistics firm Savage Industries, have asked the port to extend the terms of their lease by two years.

Port leaders slogged through hours of public testimony Tuesday, hearing from tribal officials, business interests, community members, elected officials and medical professionals, each with their own take on whether the port should grant the Vancouver Energy Project’s request.

Jared Larrabee, general manager for the Vancouver Energy Project, said the port should grant Tesoro-Savage the lease amendment.

“It’s the right time to do this project, it’s the right place to do the project and it’s the right team – including the port – to do this project,” Larrabee told commissioners.

Under the current lease, Tesoro-Savage has until August to get the permits they need to start building. If they don’t, either the companies or the port have the ability to get out of the lease.

It seems unlikely – if not impossible – for the Vancouver Energy Project to get the permits they need by that deadline, however. The oil terminal is currently working its way through Washington state’s permitting process, which is taking longer than expected. A major portion of the state’s review won’t be complete until the end of July.

If the port commissioners deny the company’s lease extension, the project becomes more expensive for Tesoro-Savage come August. Port officials say that’s when the project will owe $3 million in rent for land the company has little chance of turning a profit on anytime soon.

Last week, the Port of Vancouver’s staff recommended commissioners deny the company’s request for a new lease.

Port CEO Todd Coleman said the staff question the process.

“We have concerns about whether or not that at the end of the day that any more time beyond August 1 will result in a different outcome,” Coleman said.

He said the port staff remains committed to the project and the current lease.

“We believe wholeheartedly this is the right project, the right place and that it should be permitted,” Coleman said. “There’s a big question as to whether it will get permitted.”

Members of the public spoke both in favor and in opposition to the project.

Vancouver resident Derya Ruggles is co-chair of the Maplewood Neighborhood Association.

“The facts of dirty energy are overwhelming, unsustainable, dangerous, destructive and dated,” she said. “We know better. We, the people of Vancouver, know we don’t want an oil terminal.”

Joe Wilson, vice chair of the Western States Petroleum Association, spoke in favor of the project.

“I have been involved in building terminals just like this,” he said. “We have built them safely and environmentally sound."

Commissioners are scheduled to meet again Friday and decide whether or not to extend the lease with Tesoro-Savage.

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