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 appealBy 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.