Repost from KCRA TV3, Sacramento CA [Editor: The video could not be embedded here on Benicia Indy, but it’s a good one – click the image to go to KCR3’s website for the video. – RS]
Valero’s oil train project halted by Benicia city leaders
Crude oil train would have traveled through NorCal cities daily
Sep 21, 2016, 9:10 PM PDT
BENICIA, Calif. (KCRA) —Benicia City Councilmembers denied Valero’s plans Tuesday night to move forward on its crude-by-rail proposal, citing safety concerns.
The project would have had trains transporting tens of thousands of crude oil – daily — to Benicia through Sacramento-area communities.
In the city of Benicia, with a population just under 30,000, you can’t miss the large presence of Valero.
“They provide a lot of money to the city,” Benicia resident John Geels said.
The company is the largest employer, providing 20 percent to the general fund. So, it became a big deal last night when city council members told the company “No.”
“We denied the appeal that Valero put forward, after the planning commission unanimously denied their application for a permit,” Benicia Councilmember Christina Strawbridge said.
That permit would have paved the way for an expansive crude oil project impacting Northern California cities.
For years, the issue went beyond the borders of Benicia, as the public and other jurisdictions expressed concerns over safety.
“Right in the heart of Davis, we are in the blast zone right now,” Yolo County Supervisor Don Saylor said. “And, that increased volume would increase the risk in our communities.”
Ultimately, Benicia councilmembers voted unanimously to reject the plan, many citing recent oil train emergencies.
“It gave me real pause,” Strawbridge said. “As far as rail safety, there’s been 13 different derailments since 2013.”
Valero issued a response to the decision:
“After nearly four years of review and analysis by independent experts and the city, we are disappointed that the city councilmembers have chosen to reject the crude by rail project. At this time, we are considering our options moving forward.”
The divisive issue still has some residents split on the outcome.
“I feel bad for Valero, and I’m sure it’s going to hurt them financially,” Geels said. “But, I’m glad they were turned down.”
Meanwhile, others said the small city is making big waves, setting a new precedent as the conversation over crude oil transport continues.
“So, it’s a milestone because this community stood up,” Saylor said.
On Thursday morning, the planning commission in San Luis Obispo County will be taking up a similar hearing — for an oil-by-rail project proposed by Phillips 66.
Repost from the Davis Enterprise [Editor: I know Lynne as a strong advocate against Valero’s Crude By Rail proposal. Her fair-minded coverage of both sides of the debate in this article is amazing and admirable. A good overview of the hearing on Monday. – RS]
Benicia hears oil-train concerns from Davisites
By Lynne Nittler, April 06, 2016
BENICIA — Davis was well-represented at a Benicia City Council hearing Monday for Valero Oil’s crude-by-rail project. Of the approximately 48 people who spoke, 12 came from Davis or Dixon, and another six were from Sacramento.
The speakers voiced their opposition to the oil company’s proposal to expand its refinery and accept 100 rail cars daily full of North American crude oil on a route that comes directly through downtown Davis.
The hearing continues with more public testimony tonight plus April 18 and 19 at the City Chambers in Benicia.
The evening began with a rally of those opposed to the project counter-balanced by a gathering of Valero workers and supporters of the project. A busload of 23 people from Sacramento stopped to pick up seven more in Davis, arriving just as the hearing began in the packed chambers.
Officials were allowed to speak first, beginning with Yolo County Supervisor Don Saylor, who also represented the Sacramento Area Council of Governments. He traced Yolo County’s effort over the past three years to communicate the serious safety concerns and to offer possible mitigation measures that were acknowledged but not addressed in the EIR.
He said 500,000 of the 2.4 million residents in the SACOG area — the counties of Yolo, Sacramento, Sutter, Yuba, Placer and El Dorado — live in the blast zone of the railroads, i.e., within a quarter-mile radius of the tracks. Of those, 260,000 are residents, 200,000 work in the area and 28,000 are students.
While acknowledging that Valero and its jobs are important, Saylor emphasized that this project “requires a shared commitment to protecting public safety.” He said the project should not be approved until the safety concerns are resolved.
Matt Jones of the Yolo Solano Air Quality Management District represented all seven districts that have responded jointly in writing to three versions of the environmental impact report for the Valero project. He said the EIR documents the impacts correctly, but fails to offer or respond to any mitigations, even when the Sacramento Metropolitan AQMD offered staff time to work out an off-site mitigation plan.
Jones reminded the Benicia council that San Luis Obispo County is examining a similar crude-by-rail proposal, and Phillips 66 has voluntarily offered such off-site mitigations.
Eric Lee, a city of Davis planner, made a plea for Benicia council members to uphold the decision of their Planning Commission, which voted on Feb. 11 not to certify the final environmental impact report and denied Valero’s permit.
He added that Davis believes that legally, the local jurisdictions are not pre-empted by federal rail regulations and that up-rail cities are entitled to have their comments addressed in the EIR.
He concluded by saying that the city of Benicia has a legal obligation to safeguard the public.
“I continue to be concerned about the Valero crude-by-rail project regarding the significant air quality impact,” state Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, wrote in a letter to the Benicia council, read by her representative, Alex Pader. Wolk recommended specific steps, and if said they cannot be met, then the project should not move forward.
She reminded the council members that her own obligation is to protect the public from harm, which she has done with two pieces of legislation on oil-train safety, and said their obligation to safeguard the public is no less.
Marilyn Bardet, spokeswoman for Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community, encouraged the council members to use their ethical judgment, and read all the material from the past years, plus what is pouring in now, to inform themselves at this crucial juncture in the decision-making process. She urged them to uphold the decision of the Planning Commission.
After a break, a mix of speakers pro (12) and con (16) spoke for up to five minutes each.
One Valero proponent said America has a tremendous thirst for oil; therefore, don’t we have a responsibility to produce it?
Jasmine Powell, a resident of Benicia, said Valero never risks its outstanding safety record as indicated by its high OSHA ratings.
Michael Wolfe, senior vice president of an engineering services firm, said California crude is increasingly scarce and Alaskan crude is running out as well. Valero is seeking to purchase North American oil to avoid importing more foreign oil. California already imports more foreign crude than any other state, Wolfe said.
Seven other Valero workers and supporters spoke of their trust in Valero’s high safety standards.
On the other side, Frances Burke of Davis spoke of the Planning Commission’s work as “epic,” and made an eloquent plea for the up-rail communities not to be dismissed as collateral damage.
Don Mooney , an environmental lawyer from Davis, said in his 25 years in environmental law, he had not seen a case with more uniform opposition, where so many have stood opposed for the same reasons.
Katherine Black simply read the list of officials and organizations opposing the project for five minutes, including all seven air quality management districts, all 22 cities and six counties who belong to SACOG, the California Office of Spill Prevention and Response and the California attorney general.
The Benicia City Council will hear more testimony tonight.
Repost from the Vallejo Times-Herald [Editor: Many thanks to the Vallejo Times-Herald and reporter Irma Widjojo for her late-night service to our communities, covering hearings on this incredibly important issue of statewide and national significance. We can only wish the major news outlets in the Bay Area and Northern California were so inclined. Oh, and … great photo! – RS]
Public comments on Valero’s appeal
By Irma Widjojo, 04/05/16, 6:28 PM PDT
Benicia >> About 50 people spoke Monday night to voice their opinion on Valero Benicia Refinery’s proposed project as the public comment period of the appeal hearing began.
Like previous public comment periods on the issue, the Benicia City Council Chambers was packed for the hearing, causing a number of people to be asked to listen from the overflow areas.
The City Council is being asked to consider the Planning Commission’s decision to deny Valero’s use permit application for the crude-by-rail project and to not certify the project’s Environmental Impact Report, or EIR.
Elected officials from surrounding areas, representatives from governmental and other agencies and spokesmen for organized groups were allowed to speak first at the meeting.
About 30 people came by a chartered bus from Sacramento and the “uprail” cities to oppose the project and spoke.
A local grassroots organization Benicians for Safe and Healthy Community also used a visual prop during its address in the form of a scroll of papers containing more than 4,080 signatures of those who are against the project.
At a March hearing, an attorney working with Valero on the project said the company intends to send a request for an opinion from the Surface Transportation Board on the issue of federal preemption in relation to the project.
At the end of the hearing, later in April, the council will also decide if it will wait to make a decision on the appeal after the Surface Transportation Board, or STB, returns with a declarative order.
The staff has recommended for the council not to wait because the agency’s decision can be appealed in court and waiting would risk for the EIR to become stale.
Those who support the project are urging the council to wait, while the other side ask for a decision to be made at the end of the hearing.
“Too much money and time have been spent on this process,” a speaker said. “Let’s not postpone it further.”
At stake is the ability for the refinery to bring in two 50-car trains a day carrying up to 70,000 barrels of North American crude oil. The company’s oil is now being transported into the city by marine vessels and pipeline.
Those who supported the project say Valero has been a good neighbor in Benicia and that the project is needed for the company to remain competitive.
The refinery said the $50 million project would result in about 120 temporary construction jobs and 20 full-time jobs, as well as generate tax revenues for the city.
However, those who are against the project said the risks outweigh the benefits.
In fact, the project EIR states that there are 11 “significant and unavoidable” impacts, though staff and Valero have said they cannot be mitigated because they are rail related and are preempted by federal laws.
The Planning Commission, however, disagreed, and denied the project.
Public comment will resume Wednesday at 7 p.m. at City Hall, 250 E. L St., and the hearing will then continue April 18 and 19, if necessary.