The Washington State Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council (EFSEC) voted unanimously this week to send Governor Jay Inslee a recommendation to deny the proposed Vancouver Energy terminal project. Labor and business stakeholders say they are worried what message this may send to potential businesses looking to move and build in Washington.
According to Vancouver Energy, the construction of the terminal would provide $22 million in state and local taxes, and full operation would bring in $2 billion to local and regional economies.
The project’s construction would also create an estimated 320 full-time or equivalent jobs. During operation, it would provide 616 on-site and off-site jobs, and an additional 1,000 direct, indirect and induced jobs annually.
On November 28, EFSEC held a public hearing in Olympia concerning its recommendation to the governor.
EFSEC Chair Roselyn Marcus told attendees the council’s decision would balance the “needs of the facility at this particular site versus public interest” and must decide if the company’s “proposed benefits outweigh the negative impacts on broad, public interest.”
Vancouver Energy’s original application was filed in 2013. Marcus said the process was probably “the longest in the council’s history, with issues of great significance that have never been faced by this council before.”
She added the draft EIS process included over 250,000 comments reviewed by the council and a 25-day adjudicatory meeting which comprised of 91 witnesses testifying and 818 exhibits. The data resulted in 5,000 pages of transcripts.
Earlier this month, EFSEC released its Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) on the project, which included 1,200 pages of research, comments and recommendations about the proposed project.
According to the FEIS, unavoidable effects of the terminal’s operation include increased rail traffic and rail-related noise to the nearby community.
Greg Shafer, Development Engineering Manager for Clark County told attendees the council decided Vancouver Energy has not met its requirement under state law “to establish that the port of Vancouver is an acceptable location to site the proposed Vancouver Energy distribution terminal.”
Jaime Rossman said, “Based on the evidence and the adjudicative record and the final environmental impact statement as well as the voluminous testimony we’ve heard. I am inclined to agree with this direction.” He is Rules Coordinator for the Washington Department of Commerce.
“The final EIS clearly outlines a number of impacts and risks that I think speak for themselves in describing some of the dangers of the potential facility and I look forward to seeing the final write up and looking through that…I believe this is the right course of action,” continued Rossman.
In response, the company released an online statement saying, “We are extremely disappointed, especially after a review of more than four years in a process that state law says should take one year.”
According to Vancouver Energy, the council set an “impossible standard” for energy projects based upon rare risks. Also, the company said the FEIS found any negative effects could be mitigated.
“This decision sends a clear anti-development message that will have a chilling effect on business in the state of Washington,” stated the company.
The project site is located within the Port of Vancouver. Port staff said they will continue to look at possible concerns as the process continues.
“We heard the vote and we heard the conversation that occurred among the council,” Abbi Russell, Communications Director for the Port of Vancouver, told Lens. “We respect that process and everybody who has put in so much work in the process so far.”
“Knowing that we have a process still ahead of us and work to do, we will continue to review the FEIS and talk with Vancouver Energy,” added Russel. “We want to make sure no matter what that if the project is built at the port, we want to make sure it is operated safely and in an environmentally sensitive manner.”
Labor and business leaders have come out vocally against the council’s decision. “This decision sets a bad precedent for future energy projects in this state, and for the jobs and economic development that would come with it,” warned Larry Brown, Legislative and Political Director for Aerospace Machinists 751, in a recent Keep Washington Competitive release. “We’re basically telling the world we are anti-development, anti-construction and anti-jobs
For John Stuhlmiller, the vote is harmful to business wishing to build trade-related projects in the state. “We can’t continue down this path and expect to be the most trade-dependent state in the nation if we are not willing to invest in new infrastructure projects. If you look at the recent pattern of regulatory rulings, they have all had far-reaching regulatory implications that will increasingly stifle development.”
EFSEC decided it will transmit the final report of recommendation to the governor during its December 19 council meeting. The governor will then have 60 days to make a final decision.