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SLO County staff recommends denial of Phillips 66 rail spur 

Phillips 66’s controversial plans to build a rail spur and increase the number of oil hauling trains moving through Central Coast cities could be derailed due to a recent report released by SLO County planning staff.

Staff released the report to the SLO County Planning Commission and recommended that commissioners deny the project at an upcoming February meeting. The recommendation comes after months of contentious debate and protest over the project.

click to enlarge RAIL SPUR A NO GO?:  SLO County planning staff recommends denial of the Phillips 66 rail spur project. The Planning Commission will hear the project on Feb. 4 and 5. - FILE PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • FILE PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • RAIL SPUR A NO GO?: SLO County planning staff recommends denial of the Phillips 66 rail spur project. The Planning Commission will hear the project on Feb. 4 and 5.

According to the report, the impact of the project—which would allow Phillips 66 to build a 6,915-foot rail extension to accommodate five mile-long trains per week with 22 oil-hauling tankers, carrying between 26,000 and 28,000 gallons of crude oil along the rail line—would pose a risk to public safety. Chief among those risks is the possibility of train derailments, which could result in spills or even explosions.

“The project would be detrimental to the health, safety, and welfare of the public and residents of San Luis Obispo County due to the increase of hazardous accidents as a result of the project,” the report stated.

In addition to the risk of spills and explosions, the report also stated that the additional train activity would cause an increase in toxic air emissions, and would have other negative impacts on everything from water, biological, agricultural, and other environmental resources.

“There is a lack of specific overriding economic, legal, social, technological, or other benefits of the project that outweigh the significant effects on the environment, as would be required to approve the project pursuant to the Public Resources Code 21081,” the report stated.

The recommendation on the project comes after staff not only completed and reviewed the environmental impact of the rail spur project, but received a massive amount of public impact from inside and outside of the county.

According to Ryan Hostetter, a senior planner with the county, staff received approximately 24,500 comment letters on the project. Those letters come from county residents, as well from individuals, organizations, and entities across California and even from other states. 

“We got a more responses than any other project in the county,” Hostetter told New Times. “I’d say I get an average of at least one letter a day, and they come from all over.” 

According to the staff report, the lion’s share of those letters opposed the rail spur project. Of the thousands of comments sent to the staff, only 150 of them were supportive of the project.

The Planning Commission will take up the project during a two-day hearing Feb. 4 and Feb 5. Their decision can be appealed to the county Board of Supervisors.

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