The scene of a massive explosion and oil fire 87 years ago could become the newest part of San Luis Obispo if plans by Chevron to turn the site into open space and some commercial development are approved.
The city has released its environmental review of plans to annex the 332-acre Chevron Tank Farm property along Tank Farm Road at the city’s southern edge. The documents outline plans for the property over the next 25 years.
The oil company has also applied to have the city annex the property, which would transfer jurisdiction from the county. The release of the environmental impact report starts a 45-day public comment period that will end Aug. 5.
“This is a milestone,” said Bill Almas, Chevron project manager. “It’s taken a long time to put this project together.”
Getting the many regulatory agencies to agree on the project has been the main stumbling block, he said.
The environmental analysis concentrates on the cleanup planned for the site, Almas said. The fire left the site covered with a layer of crude oil that can bubble up during the hot summer months, exposing wildlife to oiling and contamination.
Cleanup would be a combination of excavating and removing the contamination and capping other areas to prevent exposure of the oil to wildlife. Wetlands and habitat for rare plants and animals would also be improved.
More than 250 acres of the property would remain open space. The project envisions a hiking and biking trail and ball fields on 15 acres of the property north of Tank Farm Road.
The environmental review also examines plans by Chevron to develop 800,000 square feet of business and commercial space on 53 acres, mostly in the northeastern corner of the property. A variety of commercial ventures and businesses could apply to locate in the business park with a small percentage being retail businesses, Almas said.
The project would benefit the city because Chevron would finance some $14 million in infrastructure improvements including widening Tank Farm Road to four lanes and extending Santa Fe Road north to connect with the Margarita area. Chevron would recover these costs through the planned commercial development.
Public informational meetings on the proposal are scheduled for 5:30 p.m., July 8 and 6 p.m., July 24 in the public library in San Luis Obispo. The environmental review of the project is expected to be complete late this year.
The City Council could then apply to the county’s Local Agency Formation Commission for annexation with transfer of jurisdiction taking place as early as next year, said Phil Dunsmore, a senior planner with the city.
If approved, it would be San Luis Obispo’s first large-scale annexation since the city annexed the 230-acre Orcutt area in 2011.
The environmental impact report identifies several aspects of the project that remain controversial and are likely to be the subject of debate as the proposal wends its way through the planning process.
Chief among these is the level to which Chevron would be required to clean up the site. The oil company is not proposing removing all the old oil because most of it is the consistency of asphalt and will not spread to other areas.
Digging up and hauling away that hardened crude oil would have more impact on the environment through air emissions and traffic than capping it and leaving it in place, said Rik Williams, Chevron’s remediation manager. However, some stakeholders are expected to press for a more thorough cleanup.
The other area of controversy is the amount of access the public will be allowed to the open space areas of the property. Some members of the public have asked that most of the open space be opened to the public.
Under the current proposal, public access would be limited to areas north of Tank Farm Road. Areas south of the road would be off limits to protect wildlife and endangered species such as the vernal pool fairy shrimp.
For nearly a century, the tank farm property was used as a large storage area for crude oil from the Central Valley before it was shipped out of Avila Beach to refineries in Southern California. The property was the site of a massive fire in 1926 when storage ponds full of crude oil were struck by lightning and overflowed, sending rivers of flaming oil down San Luis Obispo Creek.
Use of the property for oil storage was discontinued in the late 1990s. The last oil storage tank was removed in 2000.
The environmental documents for the Tank Farm project are available on the city’s website at www.slocity.org/communitydevelopment/Long%20Range/Chevron.asp. For more information, contact senior planner Dunsmore at 781-7522 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.