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Residents request city take formal position against Phillips 66 rail spur 


Concerns voiced at Tuesday night’s Paso Robles City Council meeting

–The Paso Robles City Council heard concerns from the community about the Phillips 66 oil train at Tuesday night’s council meeting. A group of residents from around San Luis Obispo County, including from the city, requested that the city council take a formal position against the Phillips 66 rail extension project at the Nipomo Mesa Refinery.

Charles Varni from Oceano said that 45-percent of the population in the city of Paso Robles lives or works within the one mile blast zone of the Union Pacific railroad and asked the council to “Please take a position.” Sawyer Sackett from Paso Robles said he has grown up in Paso Robles and attended some of the schools within the blast zone, including Kermit King and Paso Robles High School. Sackett said the thought that “my home town could be destroyed is devastating.” Bill Miller, Paso Robles, read a list of oil train explosions that have happened since 2013, including the most recent derailment and explosion near Mosier, Oregon.

Mayor Steven Martin said the public comments are not part of the current meeting’s agenda but the concerns expressed would be taken into consideration. Martin thanked the speakers and said that he had placed a call to the mayor of Mosier, Oregon to discuss the recent explosion and expected to have more information very soon.

After a short break, Councilman Fred Strong also said that as the Transportation Committee Policy Chairman for the National Association of Regional Councils, he worked with the Federal Rail Administration in February of this year for changes to some of the regulations regarding oil transport by rail. “We now have four new regulations including one for restricting the speed of trains. The DOT-111 tank car is being replaced with a safer tanker,” said Strong.

Varni said there will be more community members expressing concerns about the Phillips 66 rail project at the next council meeting, which is scheduled for Tuesday, Aug. 16.

Earlier this year the Phillips 66 attorney submitted a letter to the San Luis Obispo County Planning Commission indicating that the company would be willing to reduce the number of trains to 150 per year. This would lower the number of trains traveling through the county on the Union Pacific tracks from around five to up to three 80-car trains per week.

The planning commission began the hearing process for the Phillips 66 rail spur project in February of this year and met a total of six times between February and May 16. In the meeting on May 16 the commission asked to continue the hearing until Sept. 22 and bring back additional findings and conditions of approval for their review. The commission has not made a final decision on the project, and will continue their discussion on Sept. 22.

More information about the rail spur project can be obtained from the Mesa Refinery Watch Group and Phillips 66.

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About the author: Reporter Jackie Iddings

Jackie Iddings is a contributing reporter and photographer for the Paso Robles Daily News.

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