As the proposed rail spur extension project at the Phillips 66 oil refinery in Nipomo rolls forward, public concern about the plan to ship crude oil by train through San Luis Obispo County is steadily gaining momentum.
The deadline for receiving responses from the public on the project’s draft environmental impact report (DEIR) was Jan. 27, and SLO County planning staffers said they received a flurry of input right before the deadline.
“We received a substantial amount of comments on this project,” said Murry Wilson, the planning department’s point man on the Phillips 66 project. “I had to spend a whole day compiling and organizing them.”
Wilson said that his office had received approximately 100 letters as of Jan. 23, but were then hit with about 50 more letters as Jan. 27 approached.
He added that the majority of the comments were one or two pages long, but the county also received several letters from law firms that were in the “30-page range.”
One strongly worded comment came jointly from two local environmental groups: the Sierra Club and North County Watch.
“Since the applicant began to prepare the Environmental Impact Report for this project, it has become clear that oil trains carrying Bakken crude oil—the oil that the rail spur project is intended to accommodate—are essentially rolling bombs,” Michael Jenks, chair of the Sierra Club’s Santa Lucia Chapter, wrote in a statement.
The five-page comment critiqued several different aspects of the project’s hazard assessment and also accused Phillips 66 of “piecemealing” the environmental review—essentially, concealing the true extent of the project by gaining approval for a refinery throughput increase without acknowledging the rail spur extension project was soon to follow.
Phillips 66 spokespeople have denied similar piecemealing accusations in the past by pointing to a two-month separation between when the increase was approved and the rail spur extension was proposed.
On a more local level, Nipomo resident Laurance Shinderman is one of the organizers of a group tentatively called “Derail the Rail.” Over the last few weeks, Shinderman said the group was successful in collecting more than 400 signatures in the Monarch Dunes area of Nipomo on a petition that advocated opposition to the rail spur project.
“I don’t know why you’d want to jeopardize the quality of life here just so Phillips 66 can bring in oil by train,” Shinderman told New Times. “When you look at this project, it’s just a potpourri of disasters.”
Shinderman said the group coordinated an extensive letter-writing campaign in addition to the petition, and sent dozens of letters to District 4 Supervisor Caren Ray (whose district includes the refinery) and the county planning department.
Wilson said the DEIR consultants will be reviewing and responding to the comments for the next two months, aiming to have the final EIR prepared by late March.
The next public hearing on the project will be a SLO County Planning Commission hearing tentatively scheduled for April 24—at which commissioners will debate whether to approve the project.