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Old Oak Park Road residents raise concerns over oil pipeline project 

Residents along a road in unincorporated SLO County are concerned about the construction of an underground oil pipeline but are probably too late to stop it.

Over the last few weeks, residents along Old Oak Park Road, located northeast of Arroyo Grande, watched as construction and digging equipment was staged for the project along the road. The project is a planned 5.6-mile oil pipeline that will run from the Freeport-McMoran oil operation in Price Canyon to an existing pipeline in Arroyo Grande, which connects to the Santa Maria oil refinery on the Nipomo Mesa. The pipeline will allow Phillips 66 to transport between 1,500 and 10,000 barrels of oil per day at a pressure of 700 to 1,480 pounds per square inch to the refinery, resulting in potentially 18 fewer trips per day for oil tanker trucks along SLO County roads.

click to enlarge PIPELINE PANIC:  Construction crews prepare to break ground on a 5.6 mile oil pipeline. The project is concerning some residents along Old Oak Park Road, who said they have worries about pipeline safety after the Santa Barbara County oil spill in May. - PHOTO BY MARIA SKELLY
  • PHOTO BY MARIA SKELLY
  • PIPELINE PANIC: Construction crews prepare to break ground on a 5.6 mile oil pipeline. The project is concerning some residents along Old Oak Park Road, who said they have worries about pipeline safety after the Santa Barbara County oil spill in May.

The fact that nearly 4 miles of that pipeline would run down the sections of Old Oak Park Road came as a shock to Diane Mead.

“At first we thought maybe they were putting in a bike lane,” Mead, who bought property in the area in 2013, said. “Then we starting seeing the trucks come and the pipe come in. We were all very surprised.”

Mead said several residents on the street were worried about the pipeline, particularly in the wake of a 100,000-gallon oil spill in Santa Barbara County in May, which was caused by a ruptured pipeline.  

“It’s definitely on people’s minds here,” said Bruce Actis, who’s lived on Old Oak Park Road since 1979. “We are all on wells for our water out here, so if there is a spill and it contaminates our groundwater, I don’t know what we are going to do.”

Actis and other concerned residents who contacted New Times claim they weren’t informed about the project and didn’t have an opportunity to tell the county about their concerns. 

According to information from the SLO County Planning and Building Department, a minor use permit for the project was approved at a county planning hearing Nov. 7, 2014. The project didn’t go before the county’s full planning commission, but was approved by a single hearing officer as part of a consent agenda. Robert Fitzroy, an environmental resource specialist and the project’s manager for the county, said the process was standard for projects requiring a minor use permit. He also said that the county informed all residents living within 300 feet of the proposed pipeline prior to the meeting by mail and with a notice in a local daily newspaper, as per the county’s ordinances.

Fitzroy said anyone could have called for a project hearing prior to its approval and also could have appealed the approval to the county Board of Supervisors within a 14-day window after the approval.

At least six individuals who lived on the road contacted New Times and said they did not recall getting a notice about the project from the county. Roger Bunch, and Old Oak Road resident since 1971, said he didn’t remember receiving any notice and would have liked a chance to ask questions about the project. 

“I just feel like they did this real quietly,” he said. “I think we would have just liked to ask a few questions about it. But it would have probably passed anyway.”

New Times received a list of more than 300 people that the county notified in connection with the pipeline project. Actis and Bunch were included on the list of notified people/businesses, but Mead wasn’t. 

Some of the concerned residents contacted SLO County Supervisor Adam Hill, whose district includes the area where the pipeline project is being built. Hill said he reviewed the project with county planning staff and agreed that that the proper process and notification was followed.

Hill also noted that pipeline might be a better way to safely transport the oil: “Essentially this is the safest delivery for this kind of oil, compared to say, the rail spur, or trucks.”

The news is of little comfort to 15-year Old Oak Park Road resident Maria Skelly, who also wasn’t included on the notification list.

“It was like a rubber stamp,” she said. “Basically, we were told it was a done deal. A lot of people feel sort of helpless.”

Phillips 66 didn’t respond to a request for comment on the project before press time.

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