Candidates for Solano County supervisor weigh in on Valero crude-by-rail

Repost from the Fairfield Daily Republic
[Editor: Cheers to Supervisor candidates Mike Ioakimedes, Monica Brown and Denis Honeychurch for openly and directly stating opposition to crude by rail. The news article below fails to make clear that Mike Ioakimedes opposes Valero’s proposal and others like it.  Mike is the only Benicia voice in the race and points out the crucial importance of local control over health and safety issues. (See Mike’s Facebook page for more on his CBR position.)  The Benicia Independent ENDORSES Mike Ioakimedes for Solano County Supervisor.  – RS]

Candidates for county supervisor add voices to crude-by-rail plan

By Todd R. Hansen, May 15, 2016

FAIRFIELD — Candidates for the 2nd District Board of Supervisors office are split on the Valero proposal to ship crude-by-rail to its Benicia refinery, while the two 5th District candidates line up with at least conditional support.

The candidates were responding to a question sent by the Daily Republic: “What is your position on the Valero crude-by-rail proposal at its Benicia facility, and why? Also, what role do you believe the Solano County Board of Supervisors should be taking on this matter?”

Incumbent 5th District Skip Thomson said he would back transporting crude oil by rail if all possible safety measures, including the use of retrofitted train cars, are put in place. He said the economic necessity is clear.

He also said the county supervisors must take an active role of lobbying federal officials to make sure the precautions are implemented.

“Again, as a Board of Supervisors member, I must continue to engage our federal representatives to impress upon the U.S. Department of Transportation the importance of the new technology and the need to protect our citizens,” Thomson said.

Michael Reagan, a former 5th District supervisor, said many of the necessary safety measures are in place, that Valero has made promises to adhere to more-stringent safety standards than currently required and that there are economic and environmental benefits to transporting by train rather than ship.

“There is no realistic scenario that eliminates the rail movement of hazardous materials through our communities, which developed around the rail lines. The Valero-Benicia Refinery has long received and shipped petroleum products via this existing rail spur. These include shipments of highly volatile propane and butane produced at the refinery. Other refineries in the Bay Area do so as well,” Reagan said.

“Moving these products, and many other hazardous materials, by rail is efficient, safe and regulated, exclusively, by the federal government, for good public policy reasons.”

Michael Coan, a candidate for the 2nd District seat, also supports the proposal, while Monica Brown and Denis Honeychurch are adamantly opposed. Tamer Totah said his concerns over community safety are stronger than his support of Valero’s business needs.

Mike Ioakimedes, a former Benicia councilman, said the real issue for him is local control over the decision, and said it is a critical question that extends to issues other than Valero alone.

“My position on this question is that we must retain local control in fulfilling our primary responsibility of protecting the health and safety of our citizens and residents,” Ioakimedes said.

“Finally, local control over dangerous cargo transported through our county is not only a critical county issue, it is something that also needs to be addressed at the state level. The Board of Supervisors should have a very active role in protecting local authority over local issues,” he said.

Honeychurch touched on that issue as well.

“I oppose crude-by-rail unless and until public safety issues are completely solved. This matter is in the jurisdiction of the city of Benicia, which has, on a split vote chosen to delay a decision until another agency weighs in on the issue,” he said.

“The role of the Board of Supervisors is advisory only at this point. . . . Most importantly, the county must be prepared for a disaster should one or more of the tanker rail cars explode,” Honeychurch said.

Brown leaves little doubt about her opposition. She said the proposal is just far too dangerous.

“The benefits of this crude-by-rail do not outweigh the numerous significant and unavoidable impacts on up-rail communities’ air quality and hazards. These cities include Roseville, Sacramento, West Sacramento, Davis, Dixon, Vacaville, Fairfield and Suisun City,” Brown said.

“Oil train derailment and explosion have increased dramatically in recent years – including the July 2013 oil train derailment in Lac-Megantic, Canada, that killed 47 people,” Brown said. “The role of any government is to serve and protect its citizens. I see my job on the board as opposing this project because its impact has the potential to hurt many citizens and harm the environment in Solano County.”

Totah likewise expressed concerns about safety.

“I know Benicia has an active (Community Emergency Response Team). I would love to see what their protocol on an oil or chemical spill would be,” said Totah, adding the CERT he is part of specifically avoids such disasters as oil spills. “I am a strong supporter of oil by waterways. I want to be cautious that our cities, neighborhood and environment are safe and enjoyable to all, including businesses.”

Coan backs the plan and cites economic reasons for his decision.

“I support crude-by-rail,” Coan said. “It will help Valero maintain and create the kind of good-paying, local jobs with good benefits that we desperately need in Benicia and here in the county of Solano. Valero’s continued success and vitality affects this county as a whole.”

“In addition to being a major income source of the Benicia’s general fund, Valero employs the majority of its workers from all of Solano County. Most of its workers live in the city of Vacaville. Valero is a source of employment that goes beyond Valero employees in that they hire outside contractors to perform work at the plant all the time,” Coan said.

He added that federal and other safety requirements are in place.

“Crude-by-rail has become a necessity for Valero to be competitive in the California marketplace given all the restrictions that have been put in place,” he said.

The 2nd District includes Benicia, approximately half of Vallejo in the southern section, and the Cordelia, Cordelia Villages and Green Valley areas in and near Fairfield. The 5th District includes a portion of the eastern section of Suisun City, the northern section of Fairfield, a portion of the eastern part of Vacaville, the Elmira area and Rio Vista.