- Jess Smart Smiley
An enormous propane terminal was nearly allowed to sneak into St. Johns without public process. Now public process has killed it.
The prospects of a $500 million export terminal—proposed by Canadian firm Pembina Pipeline and pushed by the Port of Portland—largely died yesteday, when Mayor Charlie Hales called both the Port and Pembina to let them know he no longer supports the proposal.
This is shocking news. Hales was an early booster for the terminal, which he said would bring cash and jobs to the city. But Hales' office says the public—the very public that, but for a smudge of zoning code, would have been largely left out of weighing in on the project—has turned too far against Pembina's proposal.
"They lost the public opinion in Portland in such a dramatic manner," says Dana Haynes, Hales' chief spokesman. "The letters and phone calls and emails we get ran so far in the anti-propane direction."
Haynes says the mayor has been considering his stance on the propane deal for weeks, and that he finally called Port director Bill Wyatt and Pembina management yesterday to let them know: "This is not going to be a winner."
The mayor's decision was first reported this morning by Willamette Week, which got ahold of an e-mail Wyatt sent to colleagues last night. That e-mail says Hales told Wyatt his newfound opposition lies largely in his hopes for re-election next year. Haynes stopped just short of calling that claim a lie.
"I was in the room during the conversation," he says. "That topic did not come up."
What happens now is unclear. Hales recommended that Pembina withdraw its pipeline proposal, but Haynes said the company asked for time to think about its next move. An inquiry to a company spokesman hasn't been returned. Portland City Council is scheduled on June 10 to consider zoning changes that would have paved the way for the terminal. City Hall staffers were steeling themselves for a "shit show," several told me, but now the drama's gone. Even if the proposal's still live at that point, such a zoning change would almost certainly fail without the mayor's vote.
Pembina's proposal would have meant millions in tax dollars to Portland coffers, but drew sharp criticisms over the perceived hypocrisy of green, climate change-averse Portland shipping huge amounts of fossil fuels overseas. Pembina sought to allay those fears, saying much of the propane wouldn't be burned, just folded into plastic products. It wasn't enough for opponents or for Hales, who found environmental arguments far more persuasive than safety concerns raised about the project.
“I have urged the company to withdraw on the grounds of environmental standards alone," the mayor said in a statement announcing his decision. "And Portlanders’ standards place carbon emissions and climate impact as the No. 1 cause for concern.”
The shifting tide for Pembina is a huge win for the environmental and neighborhood activists who united in opposition to the project, interrupting city council proceedings with a fun bit of theatrics involving giant cardboard heads and mocking up fake re-election posters for "Fossil Fuel Charlie". More meaningful, though, were hours of public testimony against the project at a Portland Planning and Sustainability Commission meeting in early April. That hearing wouldn't have been necessary but for a bit of protective zoning code, that would have prohibited Pembina from piping propane over shoreline and into storage tanks on the river, to be received by ships.
The outcry at that hearing made much of the difference.
"People don't want petroleum products shipped out of the country by way of Portland," Haynes says. "[The mayor] wanted this to be successful. They didn't make their case."
Read Hales' full release after the jump.
PORTLAND, OR – Mayor Charlie Hales on Wednesday reached out to the Pembina Pipeline Corp. of Calgary, Alberta, and urged company officials to withdraw a proposal for a propane pipeline in Portland.
Pembina is seeking a zoning code change to allow a pipeline from train tracks to cargo ships in the Willamette. The proposal has drawn sharp criticism from the community at large.
“From the beginning, I said Portland welcomes this investment because we are committed to growing our economy and holding industry to very high environmental and public safety standards,” Hales said. “I have spoken to countless Portlanders. I’ve studied the testimony at the Planning and Sustainability Commission. I’ve discussed this with colleagues inside City Hall and in the business community. I do not believe Pembina has made the case as far as Portland’s environmental standards are concerned. And for that reason, I am asking Pembina to withdraw.”
In referring to Portland’s environmental standards, Hales said that doesn’t mean just ordinances and regulations, but the broader environmental and climate values firmly held by Portlanders.
Hales said he held out hope that the company would make its case. “Portland’s standards, when it comes to the environment, are extremely high. Pembina knows this, and I know this. I remained hopeful the proposal could rise to clear that very high bar. But Portlanders have arrived at the conclusion that this project doesn’t match our values, and I am withdrawing my support.”
Hales said he struggled with the issue of the estimated 40 jobs that the project would have created. “Jobs are important to me, and to this council. In this case, Portland’s booming economy is one of the factors in my decision.”
Since 2011, Multnomah County has added at least 10,000 jobs each year, including approximately 18,000 jobs last year, the fastest rate of growth since the 2008 recession. Over the first three quarters of 2014, Portland’s non-agriculture job growth was the fifth greatest of all U.S. cities.
And the growth is occurring in the city’s central core. Portland’s office space vacancy rate was at 10 percent this winter, the lowest it’s been since 2000 and on par with New York City’s 9.7 percent vacancy rate. This year, companies are relocating to Portland from elsewhere in Oregon – such as Lattice Semiconductor and Zapproved – and from other states – including ShopKeep from New York City, inDinero from California, and Under Armour from Baltimore.
Hales praised the Pembina Pipeline Corp. for efforts to prove the safety of the pipeline proposal. “The efforts to prove the safety of the project worked, I believe. And Pembina’s safety record speaks for itself.”
However, while the mayor was calling Pembina officials on Wednesday, media were reporting another oil train fire in North Dakota. “Safety at the facility is one factor in safety, but it is not the only factor,” Hales said.
His decision at the end was based on Portland’s standards for environmentalism. “I have urged the company to withdraw on the grounds of environmental standards alone. And Portlanders’ standards place carbon emissions and climate impact as the No. 1 cause for concern.”
Unless it is withdrawn, the proposal is expected to come before the City Council on June 10.