SLO County supervisors reject rail spur project

March 14, 2017

The San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors voted 3-1 to shoot down Phillips 66’s Nipomo rail spur project. The vote brought an end to a long series of county hearings, but the dispute over the project may continue to play out in court.

On Tuesday, supervisors Bruce Gibson, Adam Hill and Lynn Compton voted to uphold a SLO County Planning Commission decision to deny the project. Supervisor Debbie Arnold cast the lone dissenting vote, which likewise was the lone vote in support of Phillips 66’s plan.

Phillips 66 has been seeking permission to build a rail spur so that crude oil currently delivered by pipeline can be transported to the Nipomo Mesa refinery by train. Project plans call for a maximum of 150 trains a year to pass through SLO County to the Mesa refinery. Each train would consist of up to 80 railcars, which could each transport about 27,300 gallons of oil.

The project has faced fierce opposition from local residents, as well as environmental activists. On multiple occasions, activists descended upon San Luis Obispo from across California in order to protest the project. When the board of supervisors finally voted down the project, the audience inside the board chambers applauded.

Compton, a conservative supervisor whose district includes the Nipomo Mesa, said during Tuesday’s hearing that the project could generate pollution and that her constituents have genuine concerns about safety issues, such as the possibility of a train derailment, oil spill or fire. Compton also faulted Phillips 66 for not doing more to engage the community and assuage residents’ fears.

“If I were to vote for this project and grant one or both of the appeals, I’d be voting expressly against the concerns of the neighbors that are most closely impacted by the project — those that live near it,” Compton said. “Those are the ones that I believe I have the most responsibility to listen to. Their concerns, whether you agree with them or not about the risk, are real concerns to them.”

Last April, the county planning commission voted 3-2 to reject the rail spur project. Phillips 66 responded by appealing the ruling to the board of supervisors, but also by filing a lawsuit.

The lawsuit alleged the planning commission misapplied county land use rules in designating a location to be an environmentally sensitive habitat. Attorneys for Phillips 66 argued the planning commission made the designation after the rail spur project was already accepted, violating a land use ordinance deadline and wasting the company’s time and money.

Despite voting against the project, Compton, too, said it was unfair to make the environmentally sensitive habitat designation so late in the planning process.

Prior to voting, Hill responded to Compton’s concern by saying it is okay that questions linger over the validity of the sensitive habitat designation.

“We should never feel too certain about everything that we decided on,” Hill said. “But ultimately, I think this is the right decision, and I’m glad to support it.”

Supervisor John Peschong recused himself from the hearing on the rail spur project because, in 2015, his consulting company received $262,000 from Phillips 66. Had there been a 2-2 vote, the planning commission decision to deny the project still would have held.

Now that the board hearings are complete, Phillips 66 can resume its legal battle with the county over the project.







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14 Comments

  1. c.d.cox says:

    You would be surprised at what goes by on every train that is hazmat.Trains carry cooking oil in tank cars,cases of lubricants,oils and so forth.They carry many things that a corrosive,explosive and cancer causing agents. Some of you people are nothing but rabble rousers even bring in yor ilk from access the country how many of them are on welfare and food stamps?

    (-1) 7 Total Votes - 3 up - 4 down
  2. Pelican1 says:

    Welcome to the rail spur massacre. It’s where Phillips walked in and got injected, inspected, detected, infected, neglected…and rejected.

    (-3) 5 Total Votes - 1 up - 4 down
  3. nunsense says:

    the sign on the plastic (oil based) bags appears to say “Stop Oil Rains” – well heck yeah, I’m all for that!

    (1) 11 Total Votes - 6 up - 5 down
    • easymoney says:

      Right on nunsense…
      The irony is rich with these liberals.
      They want all the trappings of a modern society, yet do not want to admit that, that would entail using resources that go against their sacred creed…

      (6) 20 Total Votes - 13 up - 7 down
      • easymoney says:

        I see vast herds of donkeys carrying legislators to and from these meetings, along side fleets of electric cars delivering the whiners to protest.
        Wait, that won’t work as they all use fossil fuels for transportation. Not to mention oil is used is most of the materials in there Priuses…

        (5) 19 Total Votes - 12 up - 7 down
  4. Jorge Estrada says:

    Why do the existing pipelines need to be replaced with trucks or trains? As for safety, my choice would be secondary containment pipelines structure so that leaks can be contained and detected next the private rail system with inspection safe guards and lastly more trucks on the publicly funded highways we share.

    (13) 15 Total Votes - 14 up - 1 down
  5. rukidding says:

    Interesting that certain groups come out to protest additional oil trains coming into San Luis Obispo County and Nipomo. Compared to what is already happening in the county. If one would accept that there may be 200 service stations (gas stations) in the county that receive 3 truckloads of fuel a week at 8000 gallons per trip that is about 80% the amount of oil that was proposed for Nipomo. This only accounts for the fuel trucks that service the county and not those that are transversing thru the county. These fuel trucks usually travel at night so most of us never see them. Gas tanker trucks also pose as a danger too as they travel many different routes thru out the county and are not limited to a designated route of travel like a train rail. We accept these dangers since most of us depend on fuel for daily existence. Some groups complain about trucks and diesel fuel and want to fee and tax them to death. But we should all remember that everything that we depend on for life most likely has been transported via truck.
    So I ask? Was the the line drawn at the right location on this decision or was this another example of the abuse by some of CEQA and politicians campaigning for the next election?

    (7) 31 Total Votes - 19 up - 12 down
    • RonHolt says:

      While I agree that there is a greater risk of an accident using trucks to transport oil, the consequences of an accident involving a trainload of oil cars far exceeds that of a truck accident. An accident involving a train load of oil coming down Cuesta Grade would be devastating — massive uncontrollable fire on the hills above SLO or a sudden evacuation of CMC are just two of the possibilities. While I have little sympathy for most drivers hit by trains at crossings, they still happen and the consequences of such accidents inside urban areas could also be extreme.

      When the “track record” for train safety approaches perfection, I am willing to support transporting more oil that way. You don’t have to search far on the internet to see that such a record is a long way off. The fact that oil and other hazardous chemicals are already being transported by train doesn’t mean that it is wise to encourage more of it. It is unfortunate that we can’t effectively direct our actions against the RR companies rather than using planning processes to limit Phillips from using them. But it is what it is.

      (2) 10 Total Votes - 6 up - 4 down
      • Pelican1 says:

        Well, I’d have even less sympathy for convicted felons in the path of a runaway train..which by the way was NEVER part of the equation..but whatever suits your purpose.
        UNTIL such time, when we establish viable alternatives to the dependence on oil, we must attempt to move oil in the safest way possible and efficiently..

        (0) 0 Total Votes - 0 up - 0 down
  6. easymoney says:

    So let me understand this,
    These trains run throughout our county and state already?
    The protest is about not letting these already running oil trains stop at an already functioning oil refinery?
    How did all the protesters, and even the board of sups, get to this meeting?

    (20) 54 Total Votes - 37 up - 17 down
    • Ricky2 says:

      “How did all the protesters, and even the board of sups, get to this meeting?” Not by oil train. So, what’s your point?

      (-5) 21 Total Votes - 8 up - 13 down
  7. Rambunctious says:

    Common sense and history tells us this is just another emotional wrong headed decision based on an unfounded sky is falling fear. This kind of catatonic form of leadership will always come back to harm us.

    (9) 59 Total Votes - 34 up - 25 down
  8. billygatez says:

    Oh Debbie Arnold. It is like she makes a career out of choosing the wrong thing, as if someone says that is bad, she does it anyway.

    (-18) 66 Total Votes - 24 up - 42 down

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