SLO County Planning Commission again delays rail spur decision

September 23, 2016
Jim Irving

Jim Irving

For the seventh time, the San Luis Obispo County Planning Commission held a hearing on the Phillips 66 rail spur project, and for the seventh time, the commission failed to reach a conclusion on the matter. More than seven months into hearings, one commissioner still has not made up his mind.

Phillips 66 plans to build a rail spur so that crude oil currently delivered by pipeline could be transported to the Nipomo Mesa refinery by train. Hearings on the rail spur project began in early February. The planning commission has spent the majority of the meetings listening to public comment, which has largely been in opposition to the project.

In May, the commission voted down a motion to deny the project. The commission then instructed county planning staff to draft conditions on which the commissioners would approve a scaled-down version of the project.

However, a majority of the commissioners has not indicated they will vote in favor of the project. It is believed that two commissioners, those appointed by supervisors Debbie Arnold and Lynn Compton, support the project, and two commissioners, those appointed by supervisors Bruce Gibson and Adam Hill oppose the rail spur.

Commissioner Jim Irving, Supervisor Frank Mecham’s appointee, is on the fence.

“My mind is not entirely made up on this project to approve or to deny,” Irving said Thursday. “But at the very least, I want to look at the project point by point all the way through and I will come to a decision at the end of that process. I know it drags it out more. I’m sorry for that. I’m sorry for the fact that we are here on our seventh hearing on this, but nonetheless that’s the way I would proceed.”

During Thursday’s hearing, the planning commission listened to several hours of public comment, then began trudging through dozens of conditions county planning staff recommended. The commission has yet to discuss many of the conditions.

County staff initially recommended denying the project. Planning staffers said the rail spur could result in oil spills and fires, and the project would generate toxic air emissions.

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, if the county rejects the rail spur, Phillips 66 will deliver the additional oil by truck.

Regardless of how the planning commission rules, the rail spur project is expected to be appealed to the SLO County Board of Supervisors.

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If a poultry truck and an oil truck have a head on collision, the highway gets tar and feathered. This would never happen on rails but where the cargo has the potential to migrate in the event of a derailment, then it would seem appropriate to have third party inspection of the rail system to identify public risk so that the rail company can be formally advised.

The Federal Railroad Administration inspects railroads in the US.

Just part of the current election process. The vote will take place right after the election.