People lined the walls of the Pismo Beach City Council chambers Tuesday night in advance of a presentation about a proposed Phillips 66 Co. rail project that would bring up to 250 trains carrying crude oil through the county each year.
Gary McKible, a representative of Mesa Refinery Watch Group, led a presentation explaining why the advocacy group opposes the proposed project.
The group petitioned the council to hear its presentation for several months, but the item was delayed while the city attempted to schedule a concurrent presentation by Phillips 66 representatives. Those efforts eventually failed due to scheduling conflicts, and the council directed its staff to put the Mesa Refinery Group's presentation on an agenda.
"This is possibly the most important health and safety issue to ever come before this council," McKible said at the meeting, claiming that roughly 37 percent of Pismo Beach would be within the "blast zone" if a train carrying crude oil derailed and exploded.
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"Pismo Beach should not need to be collateral damage to satisfy corporate greed," he said.
The presentation drew more than 50 people, with many urging the council to take an official stance on the project before it goes before the county Planning Commission with its final environmental impact report.
Official representatives of Phillips 66 were not present, although three men who identified themselves as Phillips 66 employees did speak in favor of the proposed project during public comment.
At an as-yet unscheduled public hearing, the county Planning Commission will determine whether Phillips 66 Co. can add 1.3 miles of track to an existing rail spur at its Nipomo Mesa refinery. The project would add five parallel tracks and an unloading facility to accommodate as many as five trains with 80 tank cars per week delivering crude oil for processing at the refinery.
Phillips 66 has said oil production in California is dropping, and additional sources of crude oil are needed. The new project would allow the company to serve growing demand and add local jobs, they say. Phillips 66 has also said the project is necessary to keeping the refinery open.
The plans have drawn criticism from residents throughout the county and beyond, who claim that transporting crude oil via train is unsafe because of its volatility as well as the potential for derailments and explosions.
"What nobody has addressed at any of these meetings is what happens if these trains explode — and there's something about them that does make them explode more than other trains. Who covers it?" Pismo Beach resident Kay Gore said Tuesday night. "It's adding insult to injury. (Phillips 66) won't be able to cover it. We're going to have to cover it as taxpayers."
More than 40 public agencies or elected officials in California have penned letters or passed resolutions opposing Phillips 66 Co.'s plan, including the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors, which voted Tuesday night to write a letter opposing the project. Government bodies in San Luis Obispo County have responded differently to the project, with only the city of San Luis Obispo taking an official stance opposing the project.
The Pismo Beach City Council could not take a position on the project at its meeting Tuesday, because the item was on the agenda only as a presentation.
Pismo Beach Mayor Shelly Higginbotham said a draft letter regarding the proposal will be brought before the City Council at its next meeting.
"Your comments and concerns have not fallen on deaf ears," she said, "no matter which side you were speaking from."
No date has been announced for the release of a final environmental impact report for the project, though it was initially scheduled to be released this summer. A hearing date has not yet been set for it to go before the San Luis Obispo County Planning Commission.