Hearing on Phillips 66 oil-by-rail plan continues Friday in San Luis Obispo

Repost from The Tribune, San Luis Obispo

Hearing on Phillips 66 oil-by-rail plan continues Friday in San Luis Obispo

• The county Planning Commission holds a 4th day of public testimony on a proposal to bring crude oil by rail to the Nipomo refinery

•  Most of the four dozen speakers commenting Friday morning support the project; many coming from Southern California
•  As of 10:30 a.m. nearly 100 people were waiting to speak to the commission

By Cynthia Lambert, March 11, 2016 11:26 AM
The San Luis Obispo County Planning Commission on Friday, during a fourth day of a hearing on a proposal by Phillips 66 Co. to bring oil by rail to its Nipomo Mesa refinery.
The San Luis Obispo County Planning Commission on Friday, during a fourth day of a hearing on a proposal by Phillips 66 Co. to bring oil by rail to its Nipomo Mesa refinery. David Middlecamp

More than four dozen speakers, most of them in support of the Phillips 66 oil-by-rail plan, shared their views with San Luis Obispo County Planning Commissioners on Friday morning in the fourth day of a hearing on the controversial proposal that has drawn statewide attention.

Planning Commission Chairman Don Campbell said he hoped the board could wrap up public comment Friday, adding: “We aren’t getting a lot of new information. We’re getting a lot of the same information, just different people.”

The county planning staff said at 10:30 a.m. they still had a stack of 94 speaker cards. About 50 people had already commented at that point in the morning.

Phillips 66 has applied to San Luis Obispo County to build a 1.3-mile rail spur with five parallel tracks from the main rail line to its Nipomo Mesa refinery, an unloading facility at the refinery and on-site pipelines. In three previous days of hearings, hundreds of people from around the state packed the meeting room, many condemning the proposal out of fears that an oil train derailment anywhere along the route would be disastrous. Supporters at previous meetings, many of them Phillips 66 employees, had defended the proposal, pointing to the refinery’s good safety record and the jobs it provides.

On Friday morning, many of those who commented before the commission’s morning break said they traveled to San Luis Obispo County early in the morning from Southern California to support Phillips 66 and United Steelworkers members.

Some said they were affiliated with the South Bay Center for Community Development, based in Wilmington, which has partnered with the union and the refinery to provide job opportunities for the community.

Phillips 66’s Los Angeles refinery comprises two facilities in Carson and Wilmington.

“We’re talking about directly benefiting 200 households, providing jobs for these people,” said Noel Genuino, who works for the nonprofit organization and was wearing a United Steelworkers shirt.

Cal Poly student Paul Sullivan, a computer science master’s student, also spoke in support.

“I think that any jobs we can find, especially in this area, is something we really need to work for,” he said. “I think that the environmental (impacts) and danger of the project is definitely overstated and a lot of students agree with me.”

The few speakers in opposition on Friday included Grover Beach City Councilwoman Miriam Shah, who said that blocking the project “may very well be our last chance to control the rail lines that run through the coast.”

“I can’t see a reason to put any more pollution into the environment and into their lungs,” she said.

The board of supervisors’ chambers, where the meeting is taking place, was full Friday morning, with many opponents and supporters in the room. But many of the opponents have already given their comments to the commission.

More than 300 people have spoken in front of the commission in three previous hearings. Most of the 200 speakers during the first two days, Feb. 4 and 5, urged the panel to reject the project, while many of the 100 speakers on the third day of the hearing, supported the plan.

The county planning staff has recommended denial of the project, which as proposed would allow five trains a week, for a maximum of 250 trains per year to deliver crude oil to the refinery.

Each train would have three locomotives, two buffer cars and 80 railcars carrying a total of about 2.2 million gallons of crude oil, according to county planners.

During a previous hearing day, representatives from Phillips 66 urged the commissioners to approve an alternate plan to allow three trains a week instead of five, or a maximum of 150 trains a year.

The county staff report states that three trains a week — or 150 a year — would reduce the significant toxic air emissions to no longer be considered a “Class 1 significant impact” at the refinery, which refers to the highest level of negative impacts referenced in the project’s final environmental impact report.

But emissions of diesel particulate matter would still remain a “Class 1” impact on-site, according to the staff report, and there would still be 10 “Class 1” impacts along the main rail line, such as impacts to air quality, water resources, potential demands on emergency response services and an increased risk to the public in the event of a derailment.