The oil company proposing one of SLO County’s most controversial projects is asking the SLO County Planning Commission to wait six months before taking up the issue again.
After months of lengthy hearings, Phillips 66 requested that a planned comission meeting on its proposed rail spur extension project scheduled for Sept. 22 be pushed back until March 2017.
The move comes as the company waits for a decision by federal regulators on another controversial proposal also involving oil-carrying trains in the Northern California city of Benicia.
Hearings for Phillips 66’s project, which would allow the company to bring in crude oil by train to its Santa Maria Refinery on the Nipomo Mesa, began in February. In a July 10 letter to county planning staff, the company said it wanted to wait until the Federal Surface Transportation Board ruled on a petition involving an oil train-related project in Benicia. The company in charge of that project, Valero, is seeking declaratory relief from the three-person federal board after the oil company’s proposal to run two 50-car trains per-day carrying crude oil through the city was denied by the Benicia Planning Commission and appealed to its City Council.
At the heart of the Benicia case is the issue of pre-emption, or the extent of a local government’s authority over interstate rail transportation, which is the purview of federal government.
The same issue is at play in SLO. The hearings on the Phillips 66 project featured discussions over the county’s ability to set limits or conditions on the project.
“In the interest of efficiency of the commission as well as the planning staff, we believe it would be prudent to further continue the hearing on Phillips 66’s Rail Spur Extension Project until March 2017, so that all parties can benefit from the direction expected from the Surface Transportation Board,” the letter from Phillips read.
Andres Soto is a member of Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community, an organization of residents who oppose Valero’s proposed project. Soto told New Times he was concerned that the impact of a decision that favored Valero would have far-reaching consequences.
“It would gut local land-use authority across the country,” he said.
Whether Phillips 66 gets the delay will be up to the SLO County Planning Commission. The commission will take up the request at the Sept. 22 meeting.