Hundreds descend on SLO to protest Phillips 66 rail spur
February 5, 2016
Opponents of Phillips 66’s proposed rail spur came from across California Thursday to protest the project as it appeared before the San Luis Obispo County Planing Commission. An estimated total of more than 500 people showed up to the first day of a two-day hearing on the planned rail spur.
Phillips 66 plans to build a rail spur so that crude oil currently delivered by pipeline could be transported to the Nipomo refinery by rail. The proposed project includes a 6,915-foot rail spur, an unloading facility, on-site pipelines, replacement of coke rail loading tracks and the construction of five parallel tracks with the capacity to hold a 5,190-foot train.
Four buses carrying opponents of the project arrived in San Luis Obispo on Thursday. The buses came from the Nipomo Mesa, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles and San Jose.
Members of the local homeless community also attended the planning commission hearing. Homeless individuals were seen eating pizza and holding signs.
An overflow crowd poured out of the board chambers and into the lobby and a conference room of the county building, as well as the neighboring Fremont Theater. The meeting was televised on a screen in the theater.
A total of 83 members of the public spoke at Thursday’s hearing, mostly in opposition to the project. About 400 meeting attendees submitted speakers slips.
The planning commission is scheduled to continue the hearing Friday. It is likely the hearing will take three or four days to complete due to the amount of public commenters.
Multiple public officials spoke in opposition to the project. They included San Luis Obispo Mayor Jan Marx, Santa Barbara County Supervisor Salud Carbajal and Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider. Both Carbajal and Schneider are congressional candidates.
Additionally, the county has received more than 24,000 letters opposing the project. Some of the letters came from public bodies, like the San Luis Obispo City Council.
The county received about 150 letters in favor of the proposed rail spur.
On Monday, county staff released a report saying the rail spur could result in oil spills and fires which could impact natural resources and agriculture. The report also said the project would generate toxic air emissions that exceed San Luis Obispo County health risk thresholds.
County staff is recommending the planning commission reject the project.
Phillips 66 officials say oil production is decreasing in California, and the rail spur would allow the company to bring in crude from new suppliers.
Company officials say the project would preserve 200 jobs at the Nipomo refinery. It would also create 200 temporary construction jobs and 12 new permanent positions, according to the company.
Crude oil is currently trading at less than $35 a barrel, and it hit a nearly 13-year low of $27 a barrel late last month. The price decline has caused numerous layoffs in the oil industry.
After the planning commission rules on the proposed rail spur, the Phillips 66 project is expected to be appealed to the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors.