SLO County supervisors deny Phillips 66 oil-by-train project appeal

This article ran in the online version of the Santa Maria Times March 14, 2017:

With a 3-1 vote Tuesday, the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors denied appeals filed after the Planning Commission last year voted down Phillip 66's contentious oil-by-rail proposal. 

North County Supervisor Debbie Arnold was the lone dissenter in the decision. Chairman John Peschong recused himself from the hearing that began Monday because of his consulting background with the oil industry.

"My fear is that today's decision puts trucks on the road with highly flammable material," Arnold said in her dissent.

Phillips 66 has applied for a development plan and coastal development permit to modify its existing rail spur at the refinery and install rail unloading facilities at its Nipomo Mesa refinery in order to bring in unrefined heavy crude oil there via train.

Project plans also call for extending the facility's existing rail spur, and constructing five parallel tracks and a rack area to allow unloading up to three oil trains per week, not to exceed 150 a year.

Trains would consist of 80 rail cars carrying approximately 27,300 gallons each, totaling approximately 2.19 million gallons of crude oil. 

The Planning Commission turned down the proposal in a split vote last October after eight public hearings and hours of public testimony. Most speakers voiced opposition to the plans.

Fourth District Supervisor Lynn Compton said she couldn't support the appeal, in part, because she has spent the last two years listening to concerned constituents in Nipomo, who have expressed what she believes are valid fears over the oil trains and expansion of the rail spur.

She also said Phillips 66 has done nothing to quell those fears.

"I can't be the sole defender when I don't believe in everything that goes along with it," Compton said. "I can't find any overriding conditions to support."

April Charlton covers Santa Barbara County for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow her on Twitter@WordsDawn