Monday, June 18 , 2018, 8:16 am | Fair 55º


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San Luis Obispo County To Hold Hearing On Oil Train Project At Nipomo Refinery

Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors among many opponents of proposal to bring oil trains to the Central Coast

A two-day hearing this week in San Luis Obispo is expected to attract hundreds of supporters and opponents of a proposal to extend a rail spur at the Phillips 66 Santa Maria Refinery so the facility can transport oil by railcars.

The San Luis Obispo County Planning Commission hearing is set to begin at 9 a.m. Thursday and continue Friday in the Board of Supervisors chambers in the County Government Center, 1055 Monterey St. Overflow seating will be available at the nearby Fremont Theatre.

Phillips 66 has proposed extending an existing track by 6,915 feet and adding an off-loading facility so oil could be delivered via trains, as many as five a week with 80 cars apiece that would travel from the north and south to the site near Nipomo.

The 60-year-old refinery that sits on approximately 1,700 acres typically get its product via pipeline, but is seeking new sources to continue processing up to 44,000 barrels a day. 

The project has drawn strong opposition from Nipomo residents, united as Mesa Refinery Watch Group, and people beyond the Central Coast amid fears from what one speaker likened to “a bomb train.”

But Phillips 66 representatives say the project is needed for the facility, which employs approximately 200 people. The company’s fleet of railcars exceeds current regulatory safety standards, officials said.

After reviewing an environmental impact report, San Luis Obispo County planning staff has recommended the commission deny the project, citing a number of concerns in lengthy report available with other documents here.

The original proposal calls for 250 trains, each a mile long, annually. 

“As discussed above, the project would result in significant and unavoidable impacts (Class I) which cannot be mitigated to a level of insignificance,” county planning staff said. 

Additionally, the project “raises health and safety concerns,” is inconsistent with provisions of the General Plan and with the findings required to approve a Development Plan and Coastal Development Permit, county staff added.

One key concern involves increased cancer risk due to air quality. 

"The Project includes a significant and unavoidable environmental impact with regards to cancer risk (air quality) for the population near the proposed rail spur," the staff report said.

The county also examined an alternative project with 150 trains annually, but staff said some significant environmental impacts would remain.

For months, the proposed project has spurred debate. County officials have already received 24,500 comment letters on the project, with many submitted by people from outside the county.

“The general consensus among the comments received is that project benefits do not outweigh the potential hazards it will bring to the public,” county officials said in a staff report .

Those logging objections to the proposal included the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors after the majority voted to send a letter to the neighboring county.

Guadalupe City Council declined to jump into the fray by choosing not to send a letter.

A rally to urge commissioners to deny the Phillips 66 rail terminal proposal is planned for noon Thursday in front of the County Government Center. 

Scheduled speakers include Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider and Santa Barbara County First District Supervisor Salud Carbajal. 

Others include Heidi Harmon, SLO director, Charles Varni of the SLO Surfrider Foundation chapter, Sergio Jimenez, chair of the San Jose Parks & Recreation Commission, Sherri Stoddard from the California Nurses Association and teacher Stacey Avelar.

ForestEthics, Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club,, California Nurses Association, and Surfrider Foundation will sponsor the rally. 

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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