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Judge gives Phillips 66 go-ahead to sue SLO County supervisors over oil-by-rail plan

Concerned citizens attended a San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors hearing on expansion of Phillips 66’s oil-by-rail plan in March. The plan was rejected, but Phillips 66 is appealing that decision and received a favorable decision Thursday in San Luis Obispo Superior Court.
Concerned citizens attended a San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors hearing on expansion of Phillips 66’s oil-by-rail plan in March. The plan was rejected, but Phillips 66 is appealing that decision and received a favorable decision Thursday in San Luis Obispo Superior Court. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

Phillips 66’s fight against the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors’ decision to reject its oil-by-rail plan will continue after a favorable ruling from a local judge.

A judge this week said he will allow the company to directly sue the Board of Supervisors in a lawsuit that includes new allegations based on what happened at hearings on the project March 13 and 14.

On those days in March, speakers from across California urged the board to reject the so-called bomb trains. Supervisors voted 3-1 to deny the company’s plan to extend railroad at its Santa Maria Refinery on the Nipomo Mesa to allow deliveries of crude by rail from across North America.

Before the hearing, Phillips 66 unsuccessfully asked San Luis Obispo Superior Court Judge Barry T. LaBarbera to intervene and stop the proceedings. The company argued that the county had unlawfully used a rule about environmentally sensitive habitat. Instead, the judge denied their request — arguing the company had to exhaust its administrative appeals — and the hearing continued.

This week, that same judge ruled against the county and environmental groups with a decision to allow Phillips 66 to file a new civil complaint. Environmental groups had argued that the company’s litigation was an attempt “to undermine and circumvent local agency jurisdiction.”

Amid San Luis Obispo County's debate over Phillips 66 Co's proposed oil-by-rail project, the company has continued to deliver oil to its Nipomo Mesa refinery via oil tanker trucks. This video shows the winding route from Highway 101 to the Phillips 66.

The county and environmental groups argued that Phillips 66 should not be able to file a new suit because it had not “exhausted its administrative appeals.” They argued that the company should have appealed the county’s decision to the California Coastal Commission, which it didn’t do.

LaBarbera said he would not address that issue and cited case law that said, generally, a judge will not consider the validity of the proposed complaint when deciding whether it can be filed.

In its lawsuit, the company will ask the court to direct the board to set aside its findings about environmentally sensitive habitat at the location of the proposed project.

The case will return to court in August.

Monica Vaughan: 805-781-7930, @MonicaLVaughan

More than 100 people spoke out about a plan by Phillips 66 Co. to upgrade its Nipomo refinery to receive crude oil by train during a San Luis Obispo County Planning Commission hearing Thursday, Feb. 25, 2016. Here's a sampling of the public commen

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