KCRA: Residents voice concerns over proposed rail transport in Benicia

Repost from KCRA News, Sacramento
[Editor:  This report suffers from a few errors of fact, but is a welcome bit of coverage.  Very few news reports have surfaced following last night’s important hearing.  I wasn’t able to embed the video of reporter Tom Miller.  Go to KCRA to watch.  – RS]

Residents voice concerns over proposed rail transport in Benicia

Two 50-car trains would move through cities like Sac, Davis

By Tom Miller, Feb 08, 2016 11:58 PM PST

KCRA 2016-02-08BENICIA, Calif. (KCRA) —A push to bring crude oil on trains through Northern California to the Bay Area has many residents in the towns and cities it would pass through worried about the environmental and safety risks that go with it.

Valero Energy Corporation is asking the Benicia Planning Commission to approve $55 million in upgrades to its local refinery.

The project would allow two 50-car trains, each carrying 35,000 barrels of crude oil, to unload at the refinery each day.

The crude would come from all over the continent and would be carried through major urban centers like Sacramento, Roseville and Davis.

“We are not confident that the cars that are being used for this transport will safely transport them through our communities, our sensitive habitat, along the rivers and streams in our region,” Yolo County Supervisor Don Saylor said.

According to Saylor, 500,000 people live within a half-mile of the tracks in El Dorado, Placer, Sacramento, Sutter, Yolo and Yuba counties.

An environmental impact report found eight “potentially significant impacts” that could be addressed with mitigation measures and 11 “significant and unavoidable impacts.”

Both categories include environmental effects on air quality and biological resources.

However, in the unavoidable impacts section, the report lists greenhouse gas emissions in addition to hazards and hazardous materials.

The report states the project could pose a significant threat to the public or environment in an accident involving a spill.

The report goes on to say, “Although the risk of such an occurrence is extremely low, the potential consequences of such an event could be extremely high.”

In 2013, 47 people were killed in Quebec, Canada, after a crude oil train derailed there.

Saylor is worried a similar incident could happen in Northern California.

“The highly volatile substances included within this transport could be very damaging to our communities, to our businesses (and) to our homeowners,” he said.

Valero insists that’s unlikely in Northern California. The company plans to use upgraded train cars and said its crude oil is less volatile.

“Some of the early concerns about rail safety are based on scenarios that wouldn’t exist in our project,” Valero’s Heath, Safety and Environment Director Chris Howe said.

The company, which contributes 20 percent of the money in Benicia’s general fund, currently employs 500 people within the city.

Howe said the upgrades at the refinery would create 120 temporary jobs during the anticipated five months of construction and 20 new, permanent jobs.

However, Howe said ultimately it is not Valero’s responsibility when it comes to assuring the public a disaster would not occur in Northern California.

“We look to the railroad to safely deliver that material to our refinery, but I point out that marine deliveries in the bay, much larger volumes, will be reduced in risk through the delivery of crude by rail,” he said.

Despite the environmental concerns, Benicia city staff recommended the planning commission approve the Valero project.

On Monday, Benicia City Hall was filled with more than a 100 people, hoping to weigh in on the proposal.

Elizabeth Lasensky carpooled from Davis with nearly a dozen others, hoping her anti crude-by-rail stance would be heard by the commissioners.

“Every time a train goes through, our probability is increased, and that’s just for an explosion,” Lasensky said. “We still have to deal with the air pollutants and the noise pollution.”

Because of the number of residents hoping to voice their concerns, the planning commission has scheduled public comment sessions every day through Thursday, when it’s expected to vote on the project.