In search of leaders who offer solutions

One of my greatest frustrations with elected officials and governmental leaders is it seems they spend an exorbitant amount of time fighting against things that they oppose and not enough time on proposals that would provide solutions to our problems.

I believe we witnessed another example of just that Tuesday.

It appears we are nearing the end of a more than four-year process since the application was filed in 2013 for the proposed Vancouver Energy oil terminal at the Port of Vancouver. On Tuesday in Olympia, members of the Washington State Energy Site Evaluation Council (EFSEC) voted unanimously to recommend the project be denied.

“This has been a long process with voluminous information, probably the longest process in this council’s history, with issues of great significance that haven’t been faced by this council before,’’ said Roselyn Marcus, chair of the EFSEC, at a meeting to announce the council’s decision, which lasted less than 10 minutes (https://www.tvw.org/watch/?eventID=2017111094).

The council’s decision now directs staff to draft a written report, which will be completed by its monthly meeting on Dec. 19. That report will be forwarded to Gov. Jay Inslee, who will then have 60 days to make his decision on the issue.

Let me be very clear about one thing as I share my thoughts on the EFSEC’s decision. I am not qualified to make a determination of the potential environmental impacts of this project.

Last week, the EFSEC completed the project’s Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) (http://www.efsec.wa.gov/Tesoro%20Savage/FEIS/FEIS_PAGE.shtml), which updated the original Draft Environmental Impact Statement released in November 2015.

The FEIS said the Tesoro Project had five “significant unavoidable impacts that cannot be fully mitigated if it were to be built.’’ Those impacts included:

  • Socioeconomic impacts to Vancouver’s Fruit Valley neighborhood.
  • Fire and medical service response delays, the result of increased rail traffic.
  • Increased accidents and deaths in the rail corridor due to increased train traffic.
  • Potential impacts to the dock and transfer pipeline, which could result in a spill, due to liquefaction of soils in the event of a large earthquake.
  • The impacts from a fire spill, or explosion at the proposed facility.

However, the FEIS stated: “Although crude oil spills, fires, or explosions may be considered unlikely under the risk analysis, the resulting environmental impacts in this chapter could be severe if they occur, and thus are considered significant under the State Environmental Protection Act.”

The EFSEC also reported that a spill of 50,000 barrels of oil during rail transit “had an annual probability of 1 in 48,000.’’

Again, it’s not my attempt to argue the environmental impact of the proposed oil terminal. I don’t need to be convinced there would be risks involved, as addressed in the FEIS. However, it is also fair to point out what the benefits of the project would be.

According to Vancouver Energy, the economic impact of the project would include:

  • $2 billion to the local and regional economy through jobs, tax revenues, income and profits, when operating at full capacity.
  • $22 million one-time payment in state and local taxes during construction.
  • $7.8 million in tax revenue annually once fully operational.
  • $210 million in construction investment.
  • 320 full-time or equivalent jobs at the terminal during construction.
  • 176 direct on-site jobs and an additional 440 direct off-site jobs once fully operational.
  • Over 1,000 jobs – direct, indirect and induced – will be supported on average annually.

You can assess the risk/reward ratio of this project for yourself. I will admit, my threshold for acceptance of the risks is likely lower than that of the members of the EFSEC.

But, for me, the rub is that this is just another example of elected officials and government leaders blocking something that has been proposed. When are we going to see some vision and leadership by local officials to solve problems?

Consider the following:

  • We have more than 70,000 Southwest Washington residents commuting to Oregon for employment. What are we doing to create more jobs in Clark County?
  • Last year, members of the Clark County Board of Councilors ended the Fee Waiver Program that promoted development in the county. In its absence, what are they doing to create jobs?
  • Earlier this month, Georgia-Pacific announced that about 280 jobs would be lost at its Camas mill. I know that just happened, but what will be done to replace those jobs?
  • In the city of La Center, the card rooms are dying a slow death. So far, the result has been about $1.5 million in lost annual revenue to that city. Elected officials and city staff have long talked about diversifying the tax base with commercial development at the La Center I-5 junction, but very little has been done to make that a reality.
  • We have severe transportation congestion issues and the need for more corridors between Washington and Oregon but I have little confidence any solutions will be completed in my lifetime.

The lack of vision, innovation and bold leadership for solutions to those problems and others is, quite frankly, disheartening.

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About The Author

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Ken Vance got his start in the newspaper industry in 1987 as a reporter at The Columbian Newspaper in Vancouver. Vance graduated from Stevenson High School in Stevenson, WA, and attended Clark College in Vancouver. He worked for The Columbian from 1987-2001. He was most recently a staff member of The Reflector Newspaper in Battle Ground, where he served as editor since 2010 and reporter since 2007. Vance’s work in the newspaper industry has won him multiple awards, including a first place award from the Society of Professional Journalists for in-depth reporting.

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