BENICIA — People will get more time to comment on a topic that plenty of people want to comment on – Valero’s proposal to transport crude oil to its Benicia refinery by rail.
The Benicia Planning Commission on Thursday conducted a public hearing on the draft environmental impact report. It voted to extend the comment a period another 45 days, from Aug. 1 to Sept. 15. About 120 people crowded into the meeting chambers, with many more in overflow rooms.
Valero under its proposal would transport crude oil in two 50-car trains daily on the Union Pacific tracks from Roseville to Benicia. The tracks pass through Fairfield-Suisun City. The draft environmental impact report concluded, among other things, that the public safety danger posed by the crude-by-rail project is with mitigation steps “less than significant.”
A number of speakers asked for an extension of the comment period, saying that the bulky draft environmental impact report is complicated and deals with important issues, such as a possible derailment.
“It is absolutely critical people in the community have the chance to understand this EIR,” said Ethan Buckner of the Sunflower Alliance. Meanwhile, audience members held up 50 yellow sunflowers representing the deaths in July 2013 from the crude oil derailment in Lac-Megantic, Quebec.
Diane Bailey of the Natural Resources Defense Council said communities along the Union Pacific line are just learning about the proposal. She asked to extend the comment period by 45 days.
“The prospect of exploding trains in people’s communities bears a lot of consideration,” Bailey said.
But a couple of speakers over the first two hours of the hearing – far from the majority – dismissed such talk as hysteria and said the original 45-day comment period for the draft environmental impact report is sufficient.
Planning commissioners agreed that the comment period needed to be extended, though they disagreed on how much time. Several based the need for an extension on their own experiences reading the draft environmental impact report.
“I’m reading every single word and it’s not the easiest read for me and I thought I was pretty literate,” Commissioner Susan Cohen Grossman said.
Dixon Mayor Jack Batchelor Jr. came to the meeting, along with Dixon Fire Chief Aaron McAlister.
“The trains come through Dixon,” Batchelor said before the meeting started.
But he didn’t intend to speak to the Planning Commission. Rather, he said, he wanted to learn about the draft environmental impact report and keep abreast of the issues. He didn’t know if the Dixon City Council might take a position on the crude-by-rail proposal.
“It’s hard to say at this point,” Batchelor said. “Nothing will be done until we get further along in the process.”
The Planning Commission spent the first two hours of the meeting on the time extension for written public comments. At about 9:30 p.m., it began hearing a presentation on the draft environmental impact report and then moved on to hearing more public comments.
Reach Barry Eberling at 427-6929 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/beberlingdr.