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Neighbors Hope To Derail Vancouver Oil Terminal

Conrad Wilson

An oil company wants to build the largest oil-by-rail terminal in the country on the banks of the Columbia River. The Vancouver Energy Project would ship oil daily from the Port of Vancouver, Washington to refineries along the West coast. The companies backing the project promise jobs. But, neighbors are worried.

Linda Garcia drives along the streets of the Fruit Valley neighborhood in Vancouver, Washington. For almost the last 20 years, it’s the place she’s called home.

“My neighborhood is my family.”

But she’s concerned about how this working-class, “transitional neighborhood” – those are her words – could change for the worse if the Vancouver Energy Project builds the nation’s largest oil-by-rail terminal at the Port of Vancouver.

Many of the homes in the neighborhood, along with an elementary school, are less than a mile from where as many as four trains full with crude oil would unload at the Port every day.

“If there were any type of incident, explosion, over-release of chemicals, spill, earthquake, anything that will cause a safety issue, we’re not entirely convinced that our neighborhood will be safe from that.”

Not only that, but documents filed in August [[WEB 2014]] by the Vancouver Energy Project with the state show the proposed terminal would emit chemicals known to cause cancer. However, according to the documents, those emissions would be in line with the state’s air pollution regulations.

Garcia says the community has long had a positive relationship with companies at the Port. And for the most part, she says, the neighborhood has embraced industry as part of daily life.

The small, uniform houses in Fruit Valley are evidence of that relationship.

Many were built during the early 1940s to house employees who worked at the Kaiser Shipyards during World War II.

Despite that history with industry, Garcia says last year, the Fruit Valley Neighborhood Associate voted to oppose the oil terminal.

“So many companies have come into the Port and have come to our neighborhood association and have come to our neighborhood association and have talked to us and have told us their plans. And if we any concerns, every single one of those concerns has been addressed.”

Garcia says that while the project’s backers did come to a neighborhood meeting, residents are still worried about safety.

Not far from Fruit Valley, Barry Cain is showing off plans for the city of Vancouver’s new blockbuster development.

Sitting behind a desk in the spacious lobby of city hall, Cain whips out his iPad to show off a rendering of a massive 32 acre, $1.5 billion mixed-use project right on the Columbia River.

“We’ve got a half mile long park and we’ll have great restaurants. They’re be 10 or 15 restaurants before it’s done, right along the water. It’ll be just a beautiful environment. Obviously it will set the stage for the future of Vancouver.”

Cain is president of Gramor Development. While the project’s not far from Fruit Valley, if the sleek design is any indication, the two neighborhoods are worlds away.

Still like many of the residents of Fruit Valley, Cain doesn’t want to see the oil terminal built.

The 21-block development is sandwiched between the Columbia River and the very railroad tracks that would carry crude oil to the Port. [[WEB Already, trains carrying oil pass along the tracks before heading to refineries. But Cain says he doesn’t want to see more.]]

“We’re fighting it, because there’s no benefit to us.”

“It’s a great benefit to the area.”

Jared Larrabee is the general manager for the Vancouver Energy Project.

He says the proposed oil terminal will create 320 construction jobs and an estimated 176 additional jobs once it’s up and running.

“It would have the ability to handle 360,000 barrels a day, which would be about four trains a day that we could handle at the facility. And to bring those in, unload the trains, put the crude oil into tanks and from there put it onto ships to ship to West coast refineries.”

 Larrabee says despite the opposition from neighbors, several polls show support for shipping oil by rail.

He says safety will be integral to the oil terminal.

“This is a facility designed from the ground up, specifically to handle this and specifically for this type of operation. So what that means is we can design all of the state-of-the-art safety features in right from the get-go.”

The oil terminal is under review by the state's energy siting council. Ultimately, the council will make a recommendation to Gov. Jay Inslee who will decide whether the project moves forward.

Copyright 2015 OPB

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