Repost from The Vallejo Times-Herald
Benicia Planning Commission hears crude-by-rail concerns
Panel extends Valero’s draft EIR public comment period through Sept. 15, 2014By Tony Burchyns | July 11,2014
BENICIA>>Citizens from as far away as Davis and Roseville attended a packed public hearing in Benicia on Thursday night on Valero’s disputed crude-by-rail project.
The purpose of the hearing was for the Planning Commission to hear public comments on the project’s roughly 1,500-page draft environmental impact report that was released on June 17.
If approved, the project would allow Valero to ship up to 70,000 barrels of crude daily by rail from Roseville to its Benicia refinery. Opponents in the Bay Area and uprail communities have raised concerns about oil train risks while supporters contend the project would be safe and keep the refinery competitive.
“This proposal in particular is really disturbing because of the number of crude-by-oil trains that are going to be coming through the area,” Nancy Rieser of Crocket Rodeo United to Defend the Environment said before the meeting. “The agencies, both local and federal, that feel so comfortable endangering local communities disappoint and shock me.”
Others voiced support for the project, which refinery officials claim will create new jobs and generate millions of dollars in local tax revenues. Valero officials also contend the project would reduce air pollution in the Bay Area by replacing smoggier boat shipments of oil with rail deliveries.
“I think all the questions have been asked and answered and it means lots of jobs for the people of Benicia and Solano County,” said Greg Partch, business manager for the Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 343 based in Vallejo. “We’re here to show our support for the project and we want it to go through.”
The meeting lasted more than four hours and required overflow seating to be set up outside the City Council chambers.
Because of the sheer number of people wishing to speak, the commission scheduled a second public hearing for Aug. 14.
Project opponents, who dominated the hearing, held 47 sunflowers representing the number of people killed in last summer’s oil train explosion in Lac-Megantic, Quebec. Before the meeting, Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community and other opposition groups held a vigil outside of City Hall in remembrance of those killed.
Valero supporters, while outnumbered at the hearing, brought petitions with hundreds of signatures from area residents backing the project.
After several speakers asked for more time to review the lengthy environmental report, the commission voted 4 to 2 to extend the public comment period through Sept. 15. The original deadline was Aug. 1.
The panel also received written requests from the city of Davis and the Sacramento Council of Governments to allow more time to respond to the report.
“Not all members of the community are technically versed … and they would like more time,” Commissioner Stephen Young said. “I think it’s only reasonable we provide that extra time.”
Commissioners Don Dean and Belinda Smith opposed the length of the extension, contending that the added time would not boost the quality of the comments.
However, commissioners George Oakes, Susan Cohen Grossman, Suzanne Sprague and Young supported the move after Valero officials couldn’t persuade them to deny the extension.
Another hearing will be required at the end of the comment period to consider accepting the report and issuing permits for the project.