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Scoping hearings for oil pipeline project begin 

The lengthy process of determining whether a pipeline company responsible for a 2015 oil spill will be allowed to replace more than 100 miles of pipeline through SLO, Santa Barbara, and Kern counties kicked off with hearings and protests in two Central Coast cities.

click to enlarge TAKING SIDES Supporters and opponents of a proposed 123-mile oil pipeline replacement project gathered at two hearings in SLO and Santa Barbara counties. - PHOTO BY CHRIS MCGUINNESS
  • Photo By Chris Mcguinness
  • TAKING SIDES Supporters and opponents of a proposed 123-mile oil pipeline replacement project gathered at two hearings in SLO and Santa Barbara counties.

Hearings about the scope of an environmental review for Plains All American Pipeline's proposed project to replace 123 miles of existing pipeline through the three counties were held Feb. 27 in Santa Barbara and Feb. 28 in Arroyo Grande. Officials from Santa Barbara County, the lead agency in processing the project application, said the hearings were a chance for residents to chime in on what impacts they want to be considered in a draft environmental impact report (EIR) of the project.

"We are still in the very initial stages of preparing that document," said Kathryn Lehr, a project planner with the Santa Barbara County Planning and Development Department, at the Feb. 28 meeting.

The pipeline and offshore drilling platforms have been shut down since May 2015, when a pipeline rupture released 142,800 gallons of crude oil along the coast near Gaviota. While Plains All American has said it's built a number of additional safety measures into the design of the new pipeline, environmental groups and others continue to oppose the project. Those included Pismo Beach City Councilmember Shelia Blake, who raised concerns about giving Plains All American a second chance after the 2015 spill.

"I trust them about as far as I can throw them," she said at the Feb. 28 meeting.

Even if the project is eventually defeated, Lehr noted that Plains All American could still turn the current pipeline back on after it satisfies a number of corrective actions placed on it by the Federal Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration after the 2015 spill.

"We have the option to restart the existing pipeline, but we believe the best option for the region and our company is to replace the line with a new line that will be designed and built with additional safety features to meet today's more stringent regulatory requirements for newly constructed pipelines," Plains All American Director of Governmental Affairs Steve Greig said in a written statement issued prior to the meetings.

Santa Barbara County will continue to accept comments on the scoping for the project's EIR through the middle of March.

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