Tag Archives: Sacramento Area Council of Governments

Sacramento leaders question Benicia’s crude oil rail project

Repost from The Sacramento Bee
[Editor: The SACOG letter can be viewed here.  (Note that this download is in draft form, but the letter was approved as is.)  Of interest also is this 10-page Union Pacific letter addressed TO the SACOG Board, encouraging no action.  A recording of the Board meeting  is available here.  – RS]

Sacramento leaders question Benicia’s crude oil rail project

By Tony Bizjak, Aug. 28, 2014
Tracks lead to Benicia’s Valero refinery. Sacramento area leaders have drafted a letter saying a Benicia report doesn’t take major oil train risks into account. | Manny Crisostomo

Sacramento leaders will send a letter to Benicia today formally challenging the Bay Area city to do a better job of studying train derailment risks before it approves an oil company’s plans to ship crude oil on daily trains through Sacramento-area downtowns to a Benicia refinery.

Acting collectively through the Sacramento Area Council of Governments, which represents 22 cities and six counties, Sacramento representatives say they are protecting the region’s interests in the face of a proposal by Valero Refining Co. to transport an estimated 2.7 million gallons of crude oil daily on trains through Roseville, Sacramento, West Sacramento and Davis. Valero officials say the oil will be refined into gas for cars in California, as well as diesel fuel and jet fuel.

“We are not taking a position on whether the project should proceed,” said Don Saylor, a Yolo County supervisor and SACOG member. “We are pointing out, as we have the responsibility to do, the public safety issues in our region. There are ways those issues can be identified and mitigated.”

Benicia officials have been collecting public comments and questions about their environmental review of the Valero project plans, and said they will respond to all comments after the comment period closes Sept. 15.

The SACOG group also is drafting a letter to federal regulators, encouraging them to make hazardous materials transport on rail safer, particularly shipments of volatile crude oil produced in North Dakota’s Bakken region. Crude oil train shipments have increased dramatically in recent years, leading to several derailments and explosions, including one that killed 47 in a Canadian town last year.

Railroad officials nationally say derailments are very infrequent. A study commissioned by Benicia determined that a derailment and spill would be a rare occurrence on the line between Roseville and Benicia. But Sacramento leaders contend Benicia has underplayed derailment possibilities, and has not adequately studied the consequences of a spill and fire.

“We think there are serious safety concerns that should be addressed by Benicia, not downplayed,” said Sacramento Councilman Steve Cohn, chairman of the SACOG board.

The Benicia trains would travel on tracks just north of downtown, through the downtown Sacramento railyard, and over the I Street Bridge.

Elk Grove Mayor Gary Davis was one of two SACOG members who voted to oppose sending the letter. “I thought it is a little outside our scope. It’s a slippery slope,” he said.

SACOG’s main role is to serve as the region’s transportation planning agency and to administer a portion of the region’s federal transportation funding allotment.

Sutter County Supervisor James Gallagher also voted against sending the letter, saying many safety issues are in the federal government’s purview, not Benicia’s. He said he doesn’t want to discourage production of domestic oil that creates jobs and reduces reliance on foreign oil.

Sac Bee: More Information

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    Lynne Nittler of Davis, CA: Take Action!

    Repost from The Davis Enterprise

    Exercise the power of public comment

    by Lynne Nittler, August 10, 2014
    oil train
    Oil tanker cars travel by rail through Davis on a recent evening. Valero oil refinery in Benicia wants to expand its oil shipments to 100 tank cars per day. Jean Jackman/Courtesy photo

    The story of crude-by-rail in California is not a done deal. As new developments unfold almost daily in this remarkable drama, it is clear that public input can make a significant impact.

    For example, last January, fierce community opposition — plus a letter from state Attorney General Kamala Harris urging further scrutiny on air quality and the risk of accidental spills — led city leaders in Pittsburg to reopen the public comment period on its draft environmental documents.

    The WesPac Petroleum project had called for an average of 242,000 barrels of crude — the equivalent of 3.5 trains per day — to be unloaded daily and stored in 16 tanks before being piped to the five Bay Area refineries. Now, it appears WesPac may never reapply. An alert public can bring about change.

    Valero in Benicia is a long way from giving up on the rail terminal that will allow it to import 100 tank cars of crude by rail daily, most likely from the tar sands of Alberta, Canada, and the Bakken Crude shale of North Dakota. These two extreme forms of crude — Bakken crude is highly volatile and proven explosive and tar sands bitumen is toxic and impossible to clean up in a spill (Kalamazoo spill, July 2010) — are already being processed in some Bay Area refineries.

    The California Energy Commission predicts within two years that California will receive 25 percent of its crude by rail, mostly from these two extreme crudes that emergency workers currently are not prepared to deal with in the event of a spill or accident. For the Sacramento region, that will mean five to six trains of 100 cars per day by the end of 2016!

    Your input now may make a significant difference. The draft environmental impact report for the Valero proposal is open for public review until Sept. 15. A printed copy is at the Stephens Branch Library, 315 E. 14th St. in Davis, and is available online at www.beniciaindependent.com. Every letter submitted becomes part of the public record and must be addressed in the final EIR.

    Frankly, the draft EIR focuses on impacts to Benicia, and just glances at uprail communities like Davis. But two 50-car trains coming across the Yolo Causeway and the protected Yolo Basin Wildlife Area; passing high-tech businesses along Second Street; rolling into town through residential neighborhoods, where the vibrations will be felt from each heavy car; following the unusual and therefore dangerous 10 mph crossover just before the train station; passing through the train station, putting the entire downtown within the blast zone; and skirting the edge of UC Davis, including the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts; puts many people at serious risk.

    If you have concerns such as whether the tank cars are safe enough, whether the volatility of the Bakken crude should be reduced before it is loaded into tank cars, who is liable in the event of an accident, whether the trains will be equipped with positive train control to improve braking, how Valero plans to mitigate the increased air and noise pollution, how Valero can claim that accidents happen only once in 111 years, etc., then you can help.

    While our city of Davis, Yolo County, Sacramento, Roseville, Fairfield, the Sacramento Area Council of Governments and the Sierra Club Yolano Group are writing their own responses to the Valero draft EIR, letters from private citizens are equally powerful.

    Public workshops are planned in August and September to help residents craft their letters. They workshops will provide background on the oil train situation, discuss the California Environmental Quality Act and EIR process and offer helpful resource materials. Participants will find topics, gather evidence, write their letters and then share drafts for feedback.

    Workshops are planned from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, Aug. 9; 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 21; and 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 7. All will take place in the Blanchard Room at the Stephens Branch Library, 315 E. 14th St. in Davis. The room is accessible to people with disabilities.

    The draft EIR and mailing directions are posted at www.beniciaindependent.com. For more information, contact me at lnittler@sbcgloball.net or 530-756-8110.

    Bring a friend! Every letter adds to the impact!

    — Lynne Nittler is a Davis resident.

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      VALLEJO TIMES-HERALD: Sacramento-area leaders concerned about crude-rail risks

      Repost from The Vallejo Times-Herald

      Sacramento-area leaders concerned about crude-rail risks

      Uprail communities urge Benicia to address oil train safety hazards
      By Tony Burchyns, 08/09/2014

      Sacramento-area leaders are voicing concerns about Valero’s proposed crude-by-rail plan, accusing Benicia of paying too little attention to potential “very serious” hazards of increased oil train shipments through Placer, Sacramento, Yolo, Solano and Contra Costa counties.

      In a draft comment letter on the project, the Sacramento Area Council of Governments last week sharply criticized a Benicia study that found that the crude oil trains rattling through cities and sensitive habitats would pose no “significant hazard” whatsoever.

      “We believe that conclusion is fundamentally flawed, disregards the recent events demonstrating the very serious risk to life and property that these shipments pose, and contradicts the conclusions of the federal government, which is mobilizing to respond to these risks,” the letter states.

      In May, the U.S. Department of Transportation found that crude-by-rail shipments pose an “imminent hazard,” based on a recent pattern of fires and spills involving crude oil shipments from the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota.

      The letter urges the city to “substantially revise” the project’s draft environmental impact report “so that it will fully inform the public and the City Council of the full impacts.”

      Valero is proposing daily shipments of up to 70,000 barrels of crude to its Benicia refinery. The tank cars would originate at unspecified North American sites and be shipped to the Union Pacific Railroad’s Roseville yard, where they would be assembled into two daily 50-car trains to Benicia.

      Last month, Benicia officials extended the public comment period on the project’s draft environmental impact report to Sept. 15.

      The council — which represents six counties and 22 cities in the Sacramento region — is set to approve its draft letter later this month. Meanwhile, the Yolo-Solano Air Quality Management District, Yolo County Board of Supervisors and Caltrans separately have submitted comment letters to Benicia expressing concerns about the project.

      Yolo County officials contend that Benicia’s project analysis “provides only a brief review of the environmental, safety, and noise effects on upstream communities.”

      “All areas along the route will have the same trains traveling on them,” the Yolo County officials wrote. They added that potential risks to all communities along the rail line should be studied.

      The Yolo-Solano Air Quality Management District recommended that the city offset increased air emissions from locomotives by supporting clean-tech programs in the region. The district also faulted the city for not studying the project’s cumulative air pollution effects throughout Sacramento and Yolo counties, as well as parts of Placer, El Dorado, Solano and Sutter counties.

      Caltrans focussed its concerns on how oil train deliveries would impact Interstate 680 near the Bayshore Road off-ramp. They recommend safety measures — including rail signals — at the Bayshore Road crossing to prevent freeway backups during peak commute hours.

      The agency also requested that a mechanism be put in place to advise Caltrans directly of any accidents affecting the freeway.

      Benicia Senior Planner Amy Million said the city would respond to all valid project concerns following the close of the public comment period. The next public hearing on the project is set for 7 p.m. Thursday at City Hall, 250 E. L St.

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