Wolfe, who retired in December, was generally supportive of the project, but also had his share of concerns – including the potential of accidents and oil spills along the Columbia Gorge.
“I always had reservations about bringing the trains down the Columbia River Gorge,” Wolfe said. “But I also warned all along that if we permanently terminated this contract, it could have a chilling effect on other contracts we were trying to pursue.”
The $210 million project would have transported 360,000 barrels of oil per day in trains along the Columbia River, transferring them to ocean vessels at the port for shipment to West Coast refineries. On Jan. 9, though, the debate came pretty much to an end, with all three active commissioners voting to not renew Vancouver Energy’s lease unless all approvals are finalized by March 31.
It’s highly unlikely that Vancouver Energy could file those approvals in that timeframe, considering they would need paperwork from several agencies, including the Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Army Corps of Engineers, Wolfe said.
“Unless they’re lined up and waiting to sign, that’s just not practical,” Wolfe said. “The project is on its last legs with this decision. The governor could do something to reverse it, but that’s not likely.”
To reverse it, Gov. Jay Inslee would have to contradict the unanimous November recommendation by the Washington State Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council encouraging disapproval of the project, Wolfe said.
Vancouver Energy issued a statement saying it was disappointed by the Port of Vancouver Commissioners’ ruling and that the company is still holding out hope that the governor will decide in its favor.
“The value of the Vancouver Energy project continues to exist for this community, for workers in Clark County and throughout Washington, and for our nation’s energy security,” Vancouver Energy Spokesman Jeff Hymas said in the release. “We will evaluate our path forward and await Governor Inslee’s decision. We hope Governor Inslee recognizes the far-reaching negative impacts a denial of this project would have for industries across Washington and the message it would send to companies looking to do business in the state.”
The governor has until mid February to decide on the issue, said Abbi Russell, a spokeswoman for the port.
“The process is technically still running,” she said. “We’re all still waiting for that decision to come down. If he agrees with EFSEC’s recommendation to disapprove the project, then the project won’t satisfy the lease requirements.”
The governor can agree with the disapproval, override the recommendation and approve the project, or approve the project with conditions, Russell said of Inslee’s options.
It’s also possible that Vancouver Energy could file a lawsuit over the project, although so far that hasn’t happened, she said.
“We certainly hope that wouldn’t be the case, but we want to be prepared for all eventualities,” Russell said.
Wolfe said he thinks the project has taken too much of a divisive toll on the local community. While he supported it, he said the commissioners’ unanimous decision to end the lease is a good thing, and could bring some healing to the area.
“The good thing I thought was that it was a unanimous vote,” Wolfe said. “My concern was the project had become very divisive in the community. I think we could have made it safe, but we couldn’t fight the perception of not wanting Vancouver to be an oil town. The divisive cost really bothered me.”