Locals Divided Over Benefits Of Proposed Vancouver Energy Oil Terminal Project

Supporters of the proposed Vancouver Energy oil terminal say that the project would give local workers a closer job site, as some are forced to travel out of state to find work. Photo: Mike Richards

The proposed Vancouver Energy oil export terminal project is anticipated to create local jobs, lower the state and county’s dependence on foreign oil and provide additional revenue to the local and regional economies. For the local community, there exists a divide between supporters, who argue the additional employment and economic activity would benefit residents, and opponents, who cite concerns with the environmental effects stemming from the project’s construction and operation.

According to Vancouver Energy, the terminal would provide $2 billion to the local and regional economies once fully operational, $22 million in state and local taxes during construction and $7.8 million in annual tax revenue when operating at full capacity.

The project’s construction in Vancouver, Washington would create an estimated 320 full-time or equivalent jobs. Once fully operational, the terminal would provide 176 on-site jobs and 440 off-site jobs, with an additional 1,000 direct, indirect and induced jobs annually.

The fully operational terminal would also promote energy independence by potentially displacing 30 percent of foreign crude oil normally shipped to the West Coast.

Local labor groups supporting the project argue the terminal will provide much-needed jobs to the site’s surrounding communities.

“Things are kind of booming everywhere but southwest Washington,” said Mike Bridges, president of the Longview/Kelso Building Trades Council and business representative for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 48.

“Things are busy but there’s no reason we can’t be busy here,” he added. “… We are hopeful we can get to an end and get people to work … and even more importantly getting people back to work, and having training opportunities for the new apprentices…as the older folks attrition out.”

“A lot of our folks are traveling right now and working in Oregon…having to pay Oregon taxes. We have members that are hungry to work on this side of the river closer to where they live so they can be home,” Bridges said.

Washingtonians who must now travel out of state to find work would welcome the prospect of a local job site.

“There isn’t a lot at home, period,” said Dan Malone. “There hasn’t been for quite a while…everything’s kind of slow.”

Malone is a resident of Castle Rock, approximately 50 miles north of Vancouver, Washington. He currently travels to Lewiston, Idaho to work on a project for JH Kelly, a mechanical contractor based out of Longview.

The commute takes approximately six-and-a-half hours, according to Malone, and he is only able to travel home every three weeks. His wife travels with him as he works on the road.

“What impacts you is catching up on all the home stuff,” he added. “It’s just tough to keep everything up on the maintenance side of my home in Cowlitz County. It takes its toll.”

The distance from home has caused him to miss out on sporting events his grandchildren participate in, he added. While away, he keeps in touch with local family or friends via FaceTime and Facebook.

Malone has worked in Seattle and Portland on some refinery and terminal work, and before the current project he worked another job in Pocatello, Idaho.

For projects in Oregon, Malone estimates journeymen lose between $125 to $150 a week due to taxes. Workers traveling to Idaho run into the same issue, he added.

For the workers, it is up to the individual to find housing while out of state, he added. Malone uses a fifth wheel trailer for a temporary home while on the job. The workers receive per diem for living expenses while away from home.

Given the chance, Malone said he would work at the Vancouver Energy terminal most likely during the project’s construction.

“There’s a local benefit. During the construction of the project, think of the economic impact from the workers there,” he said. “They’re spending money … going to restaurants, buying goods there, hotels, RV parks.” Those businesses are all going to benefit because of the additional activity, he added.

Malone expressed concern with the number of projects stalled in the permitting process.

“We’ve got a lot of (projects) in the area that are shutting down with nothing coming back in,” he said. “Where are your kids and grandkids going to have good employment? We need these projects to come in.”

The Vancouver Energy project is now four years and two months into the permitting process. Approximately 45 miles northwest, the proposed Millennium Bulk Terminals coal export facility is now five years and four months into that process.

On June 7, the Washington State Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council (EFSEC) hosted its final public hearing on Vancouver Energy’s air permit. Some local residents cited concern with air emissions stemming from the project’s construction and operation.

Vancouver resident Tom Knappenberger expressed his concern about the increased rail traffic to his neighborhood.

“From my backyard I can see the port, I can see the cranes of the port, I can see the ships coming in,” he told EFSEC representatives. “I’m no expert on air pollution but … I know it when I see it.”

If more train cars are allowed through, then “my neighborhood is gone,” Knappenberger added.

In EFSEC’s November 2015 draft EIS, the council found the terminal’s air quality emissions “would not exceed any of the comparative thresholds, and construction and operations would not be anticipated to produce significant air quality impacts in the study area for the proposed facility.”

However, there are possible risks within 1,000 feet of the site, which become more likely as you get closer to the terminal’s location, according to the draft EIS.

Vancouver Energy general manager Jared Larrabee told Lens earlier this month the company made a commitment to increase the terminal’s capacity in phases – and only when there has been no environmental or public safety incidents. The terminal would begin at 50 percent of its total capacity, then increase by 25 percent each year no negative events occur, until the project reaches full operation.

The project’s next step is a public hearing held by EFSEC on the storm water discharge permit, projected to take place in either July or August. After that hearing, the council will make its recommendation.

Inslee will have final say on the project’s approval or denial.

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