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Forum on oil terminals will go on sans backers

Tesoro, Savage decline invitation to join debate

VANCOUVER, Wash. – Representatives of the two companies that want to build the Northwest’s largest oil transfer terminal in Vancouver have held many public meetings in the community to make presentations and to answer questions about their proposed oil-by-rail project.

But a decision by Tesoro Corp. and Savage companies against attending a forum today is stirring controversy over the companies’ approach to communicating with the public. Likewise, the Port of Vancouver – which signed a lease with Tesoro and Savage – also faces questions about its public-relations policies.

At issue is a public event, to be held this morning in Vancouver. Its organizers wanted Tesoro, Savage and port officials to participate in a format in which opposing five-member panels would debate the proposed oil-handling facility. The event’s planners initially received a commitment from port Commissioner Brian Wolfe to help make that happen.

But Wolfe later backed out. He sent a Feb. 14 email to the forum’s organizers, saying, in part, that the port’s and companies’ protocols prevented him from committing tenants or prospective tenants to attending such engagements.

“Bottom line, Savage and Tesoro don’t want (Port of Vancouver) speaking for them or defending their project or setting forums independently,” Wolfe wrote in the email he sent from his law-firm account. “Further, these companies would prefer not to be in a ‘pro vs. con’ or debate setting. They recognize that it would be ‘facts’ vs. ‘emotion’ and ‘emotion’ wins every time. They want to make presentations and are not convinced this forum would accomplish that.”

In an email to the Columbian, Linda McLain, who helped organize Saturday’s forum, said the event’s planners offered to let Tesoro and Savage “have the stage alone and then the other group would come up” but the companies refused.

McLain said the forum is still on. An event flier lists the port and Tesoro-Savage as “invited,” she said, in hopes they’ll change their minds and attend.

Tesoro and Savage want to build a $110 million oil terminal at the port that would handle as much as 380,000 barrels of crude per day for eventual conversion into transportation fuels. They submitted their permit application Aug. 29.