Pittsburg: School trustees take stand against WesPac oil-by-rail project

Repost from The Contra Costa Times

Pittsburg: School trustees take stand against WesPac oil-by-rail project

By Eve Mitchell  |  05/07/2014

PITTSBURG — Pittsburg school district trustees have taken a stand against the proposed WesPac oil storage and transfer project.

The resolution approved by a 5-0 vote at Wednesday night’s meeting carries no legal power to stop the project, but it is yet another blow to a developer’s plan to transport domestic crude oil by rail cars to storage tanks, from where it would be piped to local refineries.

The resolution originated with district trustees after a presentation on the project made in March by project opponents.

“I don’t think anybody on this board is against industry,” trustee Vince Ferrante said after the meeting, adding that recent reports of crude-by-rail explosions are a matter of great concern.

“We really have a focus on the children. It doesn’t end when they walk out of the classroom,” Ferrante said. “The city has done a wonderful job developing downtown. This is a situation where we felt this project may not fit because of its proximity to residences, churches and schools.”

The board’s action is a bold statement, said Lisa Graham, a member of the Pittsburg Defense Council, which is fighting the WesPac project. “It has an amazing impact because it is a very significant body that represents lots of people, students, faculty and families,” she said. “(Trustees) have made a very bold and defensive statement to protect their constituents.”

The resolution calls on the Pittsburg City Council and other local, state and federal government agencies to categorize the WesPac project as “unequivocally contrary to public health and safety and beyond mitigation, and declare that it should not be placed within Pittsburg nor anywhere in Contra Costa County.”

Mayor Sal Evola disagreed with the resolution.

“The school board’s action is outside of their purview, and it is premature. I feel there is a process the city is obliged to abide by to review all of the proposal and then make an informed decision,” he said.

“One may question if the school board is out of line. Their action crosses the line between school business and city business. … We don’t take up resolutions on their issues. I don’t feel the school district should take up a position on our issues, especially while the project is under review.”

The $200 million waterfront project, which would be built near homes, schools and churches, would bring in an average of 88 million barrels annually of domestic crude oil by rail, and imported crude by marine vessels, to a 125-acre storage facility next to what is now the NRG power plant. The oil would be stored in 16 upgraded or new storage tanks that once stored fuel oil for a former PG&E power plant more than 25 years ago.

Project supporters say it would help refineries take advantage of a domestic oil boom at a time when California production is falling. WesPac officials have said the project would be safe, address environmental concern raised by opponents, create jobs and provide $800,000 in yearly property tax and tidelands lease revenue to the city.

In February, the City Council voted to reopen the project’s public review process in response to safety, air quality and other environmental concerns raised by residents. A new timeline for the review process is still being worked out by city staff.

The state Attorney General’s Office wrote in a January letter that the draft environmental impact report failed to disclose the sources of the crude oil and their environmental impacts, which made the entire document inadequate.

However, in an online presentation about the project, WesPac has said the domestic crude would come from the Bakken region of North Dakota, Colorado, west Texas and New Mexico. Bakken crude oil has been involved in several recent explosions while being moved by rail.