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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane City Council eyes short-term agreement with pipeline company as safety assessment is done

 (Molly Quinn / The Spokesman-Review)

Pipelines are the safest way to transport oil.

That’s according to the man most responsible for holding up a new deal between the city of Spokane and operators of the Yellowstone Pipeline, the path of which snakes through Spokane.

Despite Spokane City Council President Breean Beggs’ endorsement of well-regulated oil pipelines, he’s advocated that the city be sure a proposed 25-year operating agreement with Yellowstone Pipe Line Co. include an adequate response plan in case of a disaster.

To that end, Beggs is requesting the pipeline’s owners agree to a short-term, three-year deal while a safety assessment is conducted.

The findings of that assessment would elucidate how much insurance the pipeline company should carry to cover the costs of a potential environmental disaster.

Beggs and other members of the City Council have proceeded with caution as the city negotiates what would be the first new franchise with the pipeline company in decades. The council has repeatedly pushed back a draft that was first introduced in 2019.

The pipeline, which carries petroleum-based products across several states in the Northwest, was first permitted and built in the 1950s. The operator’s previous 25-year agreement with the city expired in 2004.

It’s unclear how persuasive the pipeline’s operator, Phillips 66, will find Beggs’s counterproposal.

“I tried talking to them about a 10-year (agreement), and they weren’t too excited about that proposition,” Timothy Szambelan, a city attorney, told the City Council on Monday.

After months of back-and-forth between city and pipeline company attorneys, the pipeline’s representatives agreed to meet with the City Council directly for the first time this month. In a thorough presentation, the company laid out multiple levels of safety checks and systems it’s implemented throughout the pipeline, as well as how they would respond in the event of an emergency.

On Monday, Beggs called the presentation “great,” but indicated he wants to wait for the results of a safety study before agreeing to a long-term deal.

The agreement, in its draft form, requires the company to pay up to $100 million in the event of a catastrophe. But Beggs has argued that the cost of past oil spills has been much higher than $100 million, including the 1999 explosion of a pipeline in Bellingham. As an attorney, Beggs represented the family of one of the explosion’s victims in civil litigation.

The City Council voted Monday to delay a vote on the agreement until April 12 while city attorneys return to the negotiating table.

Rich Johnson, a spokesman for Phillips 66, said the company was unaware of the council’s timeline for a vote and any proposed changes to the agreement. He declined to comment.