After months of hearings and discussion, members of the SLO County Planning Commission denied Phillips 66’s proposed rail spur project.
The commissioners voted 3-2 Oct. 5 to deny the project, which would have allowed the company to import oil by rail to its Santa Maria refinery on the Nipomo Mesa. Planning Commissioners Eric Meyer, Ken Topping, and Jim Irving voted to deny the project. Commissioners Don Campbell and Jim Harrison voted against denying the project.
During the lengthy procession of hearings leading up to the vote, elected representatives and members of the public from SLO County and a number other California cities spoke in opposition to the project, citing concerns about the environment and the impact of a possible derailment and fire of a oil-bearing train car.
At the Oct. 5 meeting, Meyer noted the widespread opposition and concern in a lengthy five-page statement he read prior to casting his vote.
“How can you ignore the actual pleas of our neighboring representatives?” Irving asked.
Irving, who has long been considered the critical swing vote on the project, said the issues had been “rambling around” in his head for months as he tried to decide how he would vote.
“I know people are going to have a heart attack about this one way or the other,” Irving said shortly before the vote.
While the audience erupted in cheers at the project’s denial, the battle is far from over. The decision will almost certainly be appealed to the SLO County Board of Supervisors, which has the ability to overturn it. During the multiple hearings, many expressed their belief that the matter will likely end up in court.