In the end, it’s no contest: The drawbacks to building an oil terminal at the Port of Vancouver greatly outweigh the benefits of such a plan, and state officials should reject the proposal.
At the heart of the issues are the future of Vancouver’s waterfront, the local economy, the quality of life for residents, safety concerns, and the image the city wishes to portray to the rest of the world. On each count, the proposal approved by port commissioners comes up short:
• The deal is butting heads with a $1.3 billion redevelopment of the former Boise Cascade site along the Columbia River, less than two miles upriver from the proposed oil terminal.
• The proposed terminal would bring an estimated 120 full-time jobs to the port. It would be worth at least $45 million to the port for the first 10 years of the agreement. But broad-based economic development would have more far-reaching benefits.
• Trains carrying up to 380,000 barrels of crude per day through the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, Washougal, Camas, and then Vancouver, would do little to enhance the region’s quality of life. Port Commissioner Brian Wolfe said at a recent public meeting that BNSF Railway currently is operating at full capacity and that it’s the railroad company’s responsibility to address that, not the port’s. That is not an adequate answer.
• That brings us to an inconvenient truth: Nothing could adequately reassure the public regarding safety concerns. Transporting oil is fraught with peril, and transporting it through heavily populated areas is an invitation to disaster.
• Cities throughout the country have repurposed their waterways and riverfronts. What once were conduits for heavy industry now are locations for tourism, service industries, and white-collar jobs, and that speaks to what kind of image Vancouver wishes to cultivate.
Look at it this way: Will residents more effectively promote their city by telling outsiders, “Hey, we have a new oil terminal and lots more trains going through the heart of the city,” or by saying, “We have an amazing new waterfront development along the majestic Columbia River”?