Category Archives: Sacramento Area Council of Governments

Vallejo Times-Herald: Sacramento area leaders urge more study of Valero rail plan

Repost from The Vallejo Times-Herald
[Editor: Front page above-the-fold headline in the Vallejo Times-Herald on Friday, 8/29/14.  The Times-Herald is one of two local print newspapers covering Benicia news.  – RS]

Sacramento area leaders urge more study of Valero rail plan

Council of governments faults Benicia’s review as inadequate
By Tony Burchyns, 08/28/2014

Sacramento area leaders this week mailed a letter to Benicia urging more study of safety concerns stemming from Valero’s crude-by-rail plan.

The Sacramento Area Council of Governments, representing 22 cities and six counties, drafted the letter in response to the Valero refinery’s plan to run daily crude oil trains from Roseville to Benicia.

“We urge the City of Benicia to substantially revise the (draft environmental impact report) for this project so that it will fully inform the public and the City Council of the full impacts of this project,” the letter states.

Benicia’s review of the project found no significant safety risks. But the regional council claims the city failed to address fire and explosion risks to communities along the Placer County to Yolo County rail line.

A Benicia study found the risk of major oil train spills between Roseville and Benicia would be minimal, but critics say it relied on data predating the nation’s crude-by-rail boom.

The council, which approved sending the letter last week, has raised concerns in recent months about whether local first-responders would be notified in advance of crude oil shipments through their jurisdictions. It has also called for limitations on storing tank cars in urbanized areas.

The letter does not take a position on whether Valero’s proposed project should proceed.

Valero and Union Pacific officials have argued that the safety concerns fall beyond the purview of local government because rail transportation is federally regulated.

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.

Benicia has extended the public comment period on the project’s draft environmental impact report to Sept. 15.

Other agencies that have voiced concerns in comment letters include Caltrans, Yolo County and the Yolo-Solano Air Quality Management District.

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    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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      Sacramento Area Council of Governments: Letter critical of Valero DEIR approved

      SACOG – representing 6 counties and 22 cities – to file objections by Sept 15 deadline

      August 21, 2014
      [Editor: This is an edited version of an email by Lynne Nittler of Davis, CA, who attended the meeting.  – RS]

      The 28-member Board of the Sacramento Area Council of Governments (SACOG) met on August 21, 2014, and listened to 15 community member comments from Davis, Sacramento, Dixon and Benicia who thanked them for their thorough and well-documented letter on uprail concerns not adequately addressed in the Benicia Valero Crude-by-Rail Project DEIR.  All urged the Board to submit the letter.

      In addition, SACOG counsel Kirk Trost, who researched and wrote the letter, explained his efforts to execute their directions and stood by his letter.  A spokesperson from Valero claimed that many of the requests in the letter should be directed to the federal government due to federal preemption.  Union Pacific offered to serve as an information resource as they are not technically involved; however their letter to SACOG (also submitted to the DEIR) stresses federal preemption and states outright, with citations of similar cases, that ”neither SACOG nor its member agencies has authority to  impose the mitigation measures or conditions proposed in the draft Comment Letter on Valero Crude by Rail Project Environmental Impact Report.”

      The SACOG Board held to their original plan to submit the letter which they commended and believed stated the truth of the inadequacies of the DEIR.   With just one substitute Director attempting to dismiss or weaken the letter unsuccessfully, the rest of the Board voted to submit the letter.

      In the next item on their agenda, the SACOG Board agreed to look at the comments developed by Mr. Trost on the federal DOT Rule-making document presently open for public comment through the end of September.   (For information on how to send your comment to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, see Two-month comment period starts for new federal oil train rules.)

      It remains to be seen how this all plays out legally, as Valero and UP are powerful players who are used to winning.

      The Sacramento Air Quality Management District will shortly send their letter, another strong one, but more narrowly focused on air quality issues.  Also, watch for letters from the cities of Davis (city council on Sept. 2), Sacramento, Roseville, and Colfax.

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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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