Environmental activist groups are celebrating a win after oil giant Phillips 66 and SLO County entered into a settlement agreement in connection with a lawsuit over the company's controversial plans to build a rail spur at their refinery on the Nipomo Mesa.
The settlement comes after a years-long fight over the proposed rail spur, which would have allowed Phillips 66 to import crude oil by train to the refinery. That plan was rejected by the SLO County Planning Commission in 2016, and the denial was upheld by the county Board of Supervisors on appeal. The company filed the suit to challenge that denial in SLO County Superior Court in October of last year.
- File Photo By Jayson Mellom
- FAIL SPUR An agreement between the Phillips 66 and SLO County could spell the end for the oil company's controversial oil-by-rail project at its refinery on the Nipomo Mesa.
On Oct. 2, several environmental groups announced the settlement, which still needs to be approved by a judge, and claimed victory after spending nearly three years raising concerns about the public safety and environmental impacts of the oil-carrying trains.
"I hope that this is the last nail in the coffin for the project," Laurance Shinderman, a spokesman for the Mesa Refinery Watch Group, told New Times.
According to the settlement's terms, Phillips 66 agrees to let the county's denial of the project stand, and both parties will call for the lawsuit to be dismissed with prejudice. However, the settlement does not bar the company from refiling land use permit applications in the future, and calls for any determinations about environmentally sensitive habitat on the refinery's property by the county, an issue which Phillips challenged in its lawsuit, would occur "anew and independent" of the previous rail spur decisions.
"No party concedes or admits the truth of any claim, defense, or disputed fact," the proposed settlement stated.
While the settlement leaves the door open for Phillips to propose another rail spur project in the future, Shinderman said he and other rail spur opponents remained cautiously optimistic that the company was finished trying to push for the project.
"I think it's been raised to such a high level of visibility that they would be hard pressed to continue," he said. "No is no. How many more times do they have to be told no?"
In the years since the project's initial proposal, local activists like Shinderman joined with state and even national advocacy groups to oppose it, crowding public meetings, holding large public protests, and flooding the county with letters and petitions.
"This is a win for the citizens, environment, and economy of California," said Andrew Christie, director of the Sierra Club's Santa Lucia Chapter.
Phillips 66 confirmed it had reached a settlement agreement, but did not respond to additional questions about future projects. Δ