This op-ed piece by Ken Hough was published on Thursday, January 7, 2016 in the Santa Maria Times: http://santamariatimes.com/news/opinion/editorial/commentary/reasons-to-deny-phillips-oil-train-terminal/article_eacb79a9-008a-59a8-bbb1-72982cd3aa20.html and the Lompoc Record: http://lompocrecord.com/news/opinion/editorial/commentary/forward-view/reasons-to-deny-phillips-oil-train-terminal/article_da332260-dceb-5131-bf83-82096544f62a.html.
San Luis Obispo County has finally issued the final environmental impact report on the much-discussed Phillips 66 Santa Maria Refinery rail project in the Nipomo Dunes.
Comments on the draft EIR were so numerous and compelling it took over a year to respond to them all and complete the final report.
The proposed project is officially the rail spur extension and crude oil unloading facility. In fact, the current rail spur is very short and provides no capability for crude oil deliveries. The project would be a large terminal for oil trains.
The San Luis Obispo County Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors have the authority to approve or deny the project. They should deny it for a host of reasons. I will focus on the potential impacts on residents of Santa Barbara County and beyond.
The project would allow up to five trains per week of up to 80 cars each to unload highly explosive Canadian tar sand oil at the refinery. Some or all of these nearly mile-long trains could be routed through the Union Pacific Los Angeles terminal operation and run north through Santa Barbara County to the refinery. They could also be routed from the north through San Luis Obispo County.
The final EIR finds that the main hazards associated with the project are potential accidents at the refinery and along the Union Pacific mainline “that could result in oil spills, fires and explosions.” The document finds that “the impact to public safety would be significant and unavoidable.”
The final EIR also finds that toxic emissions at the refinery would be significant and unavoidable. It also says toxic emissions in densely populated areas where trains must go slowly “would be significant and unavoidable.”
The Union Pacific mainline runs directly through Carpinteria, Montecito, Santa Barbara, Goleta and Guadalupe, and closely hugs the shoreline through the Gaviota Coast and Vandenberg Air Force Base. All of these communities and resources will be subject to greatly increased risks if the project is approved.
Santa Barbara County Action Network published a report — www.sbcan.org/issues — detailing the increased risks in our county and asked local jurisdictions to urge San Luis Obispo County to deny the project. Carpinteria, Santa Barbara, Goleta and Santa Barbara County, as well as many other cities, counties, school districts and other entities throughout California voted to urge denial of the project.
San Luis Obispo County has the authority to require mitigations to impacts on the property as part of its project approval authority, but is likely kept from imposing mitigations for the Union Pacific mainline impacts, because those fall under federal regulations.
As confirmed at a November public meeting, the county can deny the project based on significant impacts that cannot be mitigated, whether on site or on the mainline.
The main body of the final EIR can be viewed at www.sloplanning.org. The comments made on the draft EIR and the responses to them were so voluminous, however, those can only be reviewed on a CD included in a physical copy of the final EIR available at various public libraries.
The San Luis Obispo County Planning Commission has scheduled a hearing to begin at 9 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 4, and Friday, Feb. 5. We should all urge the commission to deny the rail terminal so we will not see a huge increase in oil train traffic in Santa Barbara County and elsewhere.
Ken Hough is executive director of Santa Barbara County Action Network (SBCAN). He can be reached at [email protected]. Forward View is a progressive look at local issues.