More transparency, less admonishment from Port
The Port of St. Helens held a meeting on Jan. 18, 2017. One of the agenda items was a resolution to amend the sublease agreement between the Port, Portland General Electric and Global Partners LP. Many citizens attended this meeting, wondering about proposed expansion of fuel-related industry at Port Westward.
Citizens had no access to the agenda ahead of time. If we wanted to testify, we would have had to sign up before the issue at hand was discussed, speak for only two minutes, and ask no questions. We can stay after the meeting and ask questions, but by then the voting has already happened.
There has been, as far as I can tell, no effort made toward the transparency promised after the last election.
Global had flown in a full contingent of lawyers and executives from the East Coast, an indication to me that this was, for them, a big deal.
After the presentation from Global and the citizen testimony, we were treated to a lecture by Port President Mike Avent. He admonished us for asking about transparency, public input and possible reconsideration or clarification of the terms of the 99-year lease. According to Avent, if we missed the public meeting two and a half years ago, too bad; there is no room for citizen input regarding changes that have happened since then.
He went on to state that the commissioners' good faith promise to these corporate entities allowed them to spend money on development and they, the commissioners, could not back down or consider changes to the agreement.
Apparently the majority of commissioners no longer represent the interests of the citizens. We elected them, but for the most part we are ignored. The vote was four in favor to one against.
One of the commissioners participated on the phone from Hawaii, where the executive director and at least three commissioners had just finished up a conference.
A few tidbits gleaned from the Global presentation: Only 11 more jobs will be added at the site, not the 60 promised. Global cannot guarantee that the ethanol will not be replaced with crude oil in the future. There can be up to 38 trains a month through our county and that number can be adjusted upwards, without a vote, by the Port director.
Traffic congestion along Highway 30 could be impacted by this expansion.
[Editor's note: We reached out to Port Commissioner Larry Ericksen regarding the terms and conditions for how rail traffic could be increased at Port Westward. As Ericksen explained, PGE has established a safe harbor of 34 trains per month. Under the current conditions, the limit is 24 trains per month. Certain rail improvement requirements must be met, including improvements to A Street in Rainier, before the limit could be raised to 34. To go from 34 to 38 trains per month would require a change in PGE's safe harbor, Ericksen explained. The Port Commission set a policy that if all conditions are met, and PGE provides its agreement, the total number of trains could be raised to 38 per month without further commission approval. To go beyond 38 trains, however, Global would have to make the request, PGE would have to approve it, and the full Port Commission would need vote in favor of the increase.]
Public had ample notice about Global Partners' plans
After reading the piece about Global Partners' sublease amendment (see Jan. 20, "Port kept oil company's lease expansion details muddy," A2), I wanted to reach out to you to provide some additional background.
After purchasing the facility in 2013, we realized it would require efficiency improvements to maximize productivity. On Oct. 23, 2013, we presented our infrastructure improvement plan to the Port and a full house of interested community members at a public meeting at the Columbia River People's Utility District, and over the next week local papers reported on the meeting. Ten months later, in September, the Port voted to approve a resolution supporting our efforts, including "an additional on-site pipeline, an increase number of rail unloading stations, increased storage" and various pipeline and dock improvements.
Since that approval, we have followed through by seeking a state air permit for new storage tanks and enhanced emissions reduction equipment, a federal and state permit to construct a new berth at the dock, and various local, state and federal permits to construct the Hermo Road extension. Each of those regulatory processes included public process and review, including a publicized and well-attended meeting at the Clatskanie High School in the winter of 2014.
Having obtained those permits, we constructed a new berth at the Port's dock, built the Hermo Road extension, and installed a vapor combustion unit to capture and destroy emissions. Thus, investing nearly $20 million in public infrastructure, creating local construction jobs and reducing emissions — all part of the plans openly approved by the Port in 2014.
At the request of the Port, we provide quarterly updates at public meetings on the progress of these efforts. The sublease amendments that we requested did not grant approval for the improvements — that was done in 2014 — yet some members of the public reacted as if this was new information, and it seemed as if last week's article did the same.
In all, the project has been presented:
Public meeting Oct. 23, 2013 — Approximately 80 attendees
POSH presentation September 2014 — Approximately 200 attendees
DEQ public meeting winter 2014
Approximately 10 Port meetings since fall 2013
I hope this helps to clarify the lengthy public process that has been involved with this proposal.
Catie Kerns Regulatory and Community Affairs Global Partners LP