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Phillips 66 agrees to drop lawsuit over oil trains to Nipomo refinery

Linda Fitzgerald of Los Osos (standing) was among those who opposed a crude-by-rail project at the Phillips 66 Nipomo Mesa refinery during a San Luis Obispo County hearing last March.
Linda Fitzgerald of Los Osos (standing) was among those who opposed a crude-by-rail project at the Phillips 66 Nipomo Mesa refinery during a San Luis Obispo County hearing last March. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

Phillips 66 has agreed to dismiss its lawsuit challenging San Luis Obispo County’s denial of its plan to build a rail spur to transport crude oil to its Nipomo refinery, environmental groups said Monday.

The move was celebrated Monday by opponents, who had pleaded with officials to prevent an increase of oil-filled trains from rolling by their homes, schools and businesses with the potential for derailment.

“Hopefully that’s the final nail in the coffin of this three-and-a-half-year odyssey,” said Laurance Shinderman, a spokesman for the Mesa Refinery Watch Group, a grassroots group of residents who live near to the Santa Maria refinery.

According to county attorney Tim McNulty, a settlement has been reached, and if approved by the court, the county’s denial of the project will stand.

The settlement is expected to be filed in San Luis Obispo County Superior Court Monday or Tuesday. Phillips 66 could not be reached for comment Monday morning.

Phillips 66 sued the county after the Board of Supervisors in March upheld a Planning Commission decision to deny a permit to build a 1.3-mile rail spur that would allow the company to import 6.6 million gallons of crude oil by rail a week to its Santa Maria Refinery. The company argued that county staff wrongly interpreted a Coastal Zone Land Use Ordinance regarding environmentally sensitive habitat area.

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 announcement of a pending dismissal came Monday morning from a group of environmental organizations.

Along with other environmental organizations, Mesa Refinery Watch Group opposed Phillips 66 plan to import oil from across North America.

The company said the project would diversify oil supply, an argument strengthened by the failure of the All American Pipeline in Santa Barbara County, which led to an on-going supply gap for the local refinery.

Communities across the state voiced their opposition to the so-called “bomb trains,” including at a two-day March 2017 Board of Supervisors meeting, where supervisors voted to uphold an earlier decision by the Planning Commission to reject the project.

Phillips 66 did not appeal the decision to the Coastal Commission. But it did file the lawsuit.

“The County’s denial of the Phillips oil train project will stand, and our coast and communities will be spared the risks of dangerous explosions and horrific rail accidents,” said Lina Krop, chief counsel for the Environmental Defense Center, in a written statement.

“This is a proud day for the thousands of Californians who stood up to Phillips 66 and said, “No” to its proposed crude oil train,” said Charles Varni, STOP Climate Chane Coordinator for San Luis Obispo Surfrider Foundation Chapter.

Monica Vaughan: 805-781-7930, @MonicaLVaughan

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