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Santa Barbara County Supervisors Oppose Oil-Train Proposal

Three board members vote in favor of sending letter to San Luis Obispo County objecting to Phillip 66 rail spur extension in Nipomo

Nipomo resident Laurance Shinderman speaks out against a rail spur extension project at the Phillps 66 refinery, calling the so-called oil trains ‘pipes with wheels.’
Nipomo resident Laurance Shinderman speaks out against a rail spur extension project at the Phillps 66 refinery, calling the so-called oil trains ‘pipes with wheels.’ (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

A divided Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday agreed to ask its neighbors to the north to reject a request to expand a rail spur at the Phillips 66 refinery, which wants to process oil transported by train.

The matter was brought by supervisors Salud Carbajal and Doreen Farr, who suggested the board should send a letter urging the San Luis Obispo County Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors to deny the Phillips 66 application.

The Phillips 66 Santa Maria Refinery has operated on the Nipomo Mesa in southwestern San Luis Obispo County for more than 50 years, but is seeking to bring crude oil via five trains weekly, each with 80 tank cars and an oil capacity of 49,670 to 53,532 barrels.

Santa Barbara County’s elected officials have no say in the matter since the project falls in San Luis Obispo County’s jurisdiction.

“To me, the very least we can do  — because we can’t really stop it — is write a letter to our neighbors to the north. and say please, please don't let this happen to our community,” board Chairwoman Janet Wolf said, calling it “a very dangerous industry.”

The rail spur would stretch 6,915 feet and occupy approximately 47 acres of the 1,644-acre refinery site, allowing crude oil to be transported by what one speaker called "a pipe on wheels."

“If the infrastructure is built, the trains will come,”  Farr said. “So I think it’s really important that we are on record of not supporting the expansion of the Phillips project.”

The route includes highly populated areas in addition to environmentally sensitive habitats, Carbajal sad, and could put the community in danger.

“At the end of the day, I think residents expect their government to really make sure that, first and foremost, their health and safety is taken care of, and I think that's what we're doing here ... I think what we’re doing today is prudent,” Carbajal said.

A map shows the southern route for the proposed oil train with 80 tankers each to deliver crude to the Phillips 66 Santa Maria Refinery on the Nipomo Mesa. (Click to enlarge) Click to view larger
A map shows the southern route for the proposed oil train with 80 tankers each to deliver crude to the Phillips 66 Santa Maria Refinery on the Nipomo Mesa. (Click to enlarge) (Contributed map)

The national trend has seen a rise in the number of oil shipments by train, leading to a hike in unintentional releases, which include both leaks and catastrophic accidents, Farr said.

Supervisors Peter Adam and Steve Lavagnino voted against sending a letter.

“The problem is we live in a petroleum-based society and you oppose pipelines, you oppose trucking it, you oppose barging it, you oppose putting it on a train, I’m not really sure how else we can get it to where it needs to be,” Lavagnino said.

Adam recited several examples using National Safety Council data about other risks.

More than two dozen people, most of whom opposed the rail spur expansion project, spoke during the board’s meeting. Many represented local environmental groups and community associations along the route.

Communities within the 1 mile blast zone of what opponents call “bomb trains” include Guadalupe, Casmalia, Vandenberg Air Force Base, Goleta, Santa Barbara, Carpinteria, Montecito and Summerland. 

Jenna Driscoll from Santa Barbara Channelkeeper urged the board to send a letter opposing the project. 

“The risks are simply too great to allow this project to move forward,” Driscoll added.

Atascadero resident Al Fonzi, a former hazardous-materials specialist instructor and retired emergency services coordinator, said he had heard and read a lot of false information about the product and risk.

“I feel there is a campaign of gross misinformation designed by very cynical groups to scare the public into taking incorrect action that’s against their long-term interest,” Fonzi said. 

A revised draft environmental impact report for the project was released last fall.

The San Luis Obispo County Planning and Building Department is working toward releasing a final environmental impact report for the project, staff said in July. 

County staff also is reviewing recently released updated regulations from the federal Department of Transportation and the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment. 

A San Luis Obispo County staff member said it is not known when the final EIR would be released or when the matter would go before the San Luis Obispo County Planning Commission.

The board’s actions follows Goleta Union School District, which sent an opposition letter in June.

Also opposing the project are Goleta, Santa Barbara, Ventura County, Moorpark and the city of San Luis Obispo.

After hearing from proponents and opponents, Guadalupe City Council decided in March not to take a stand on the issue.

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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