The San Luis Obispo County Planning Commission failed to make a decision whether to approve plans proposed by Phillips 66 to bring crude oil to its Nipomo Mesa refinery via rail after a daylong hearing Thursday.

The standing-room-only public meeting in San Luis Obispo was the seventh time this year the commission had held a daylong hearing related to Phillips 66's request to allow the installation of rail unloading facilities at the refinery.

An eighth hearing will be held Oct. 5.

"My mind isn't entirely made up on this project to approve or deny," said Commissioner Jim Irving, who indicated during a 'straw vote' of the project in July that he would support the proposal, giving Phillips 66 the tentative three votes it needs for permits to bring oil trains to SLO County.

Planning staff had recommended denial of the project because it is inconsistent with several county land-use plans, poses risks to public health and safety and has numerous Class 1 unavoidable environmental impacts that can’t be mitigated.

"I want to look at this project point by point," Irving said. "I know it drags it out. I'm sorry about that."

On Thursday, planning staff presented findings for why the commission could support the project, although it was noted in the accompanying staff report the initial recommendation from the planning department was to deny the Phillips' permit request. Conditions of approval also were presented.

Phillips 66 has requested SLO County approve a development plan and coastal development permit allowing modification of its existing rail spur on the southwest side of its Santa Maria Refinery.

Crude oil is currently piped to the facility that sits across from the planned golf course development, Trilogy at Monarch Dunes, and also trucked there. 

Additionally, project plans call for extending the existing rail spur at the refinery and constructing five parallel tracks and a rack area to allow unloading up to three oil trains per week, not to exceed 150 a year.

Each train would consist of 80 rail cars carrying approximately 27,300 gallons each, which would total approximately 2.19 million gallons of crude oil. 

Phillips 66 had wanted to bring in five oil trains per week to the refinery, not to exceed 250 a year.

Because the numbers changed, the Planning Commission felt compelled to reopen the public comment portion of the hearing Thursday. It had been closed during a previous meeting.

"What's really changing are the number of trains," said county project planner Ryan Hostetter. "Essentially, it's really the same project except for the number of trains per week."

About 400 people spoke during previous public hearings the commission has held on the project, with most of those voicing opposition to the proposal, citing potential risks associated with hauling crude oil via train. That didn't change Thursday.

"I know a lady who moved from Trilogy because of your straw vote, so it does matter," said Nipomo resident Paul Garrett, who was among more than 50 people who spoke Thursday, urging the commission to deny Phillips' permit request.

When it became evident the commission wasn't going to reach a decision by day's end, Commissioner Eric Meyer attempted to get the body to take another 'straw vote' so the public would know where each commissioner stood on the issue.

"I've heard (the vote) is going to go this way, and I've heard it's going to go this way," Meyer said. "The public has a right to know."

Chairman Don Campbell didn't agree. He said there haven't been deliberations on the commission yet and "none of us have had our chance to say our piece, so to speak."

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April Charlton writes for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow her on Twitter@WordsDawn

 

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