Cancel the lease now

Jim Luce OpEd

Yogi Berra was known for saying, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” The Port of Vancouver’s “fork in the road” has been three years in coming and lies immediately ahead.

Context is important. The port’s “road” – the Vancouver Energy project – is here only because another company, BHP Billiton, “bailed.” This left the port with no “anchor tenant” to help pay for its $275 million West Vancouver Rail Extension project. Vancouver Energy promised to fill that void providing good revenue, lots of jobs and a one-year EFSEC (Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council) approval process.

The port mistakenly assumed the community would welcome Vancouver Energy with open arms. Instead, over the past three years the project has been consistently opposed by neighborhood associations, the city of Vancouver, labor and public interest groups, and its neighbors. Additionally, project supporters lost an election, and its continued presence is a chilling effect on the city/private waterfront project, which is supported with millions of taxpayer dollars.

That was three years ago. Now is now. EFSEC has yet to “hear the case” and it is still finalizing an Environmental Impact Statement that generated 275,000 public comments.

So the question is asked: Which “fork in the road” will the port take? Extend the lease, stay with the lease or terminate the agreement?

Vancouver Energy’s extension request argues it is a victim of a flawed EFSEC process, but the joint venture does not deserve an extension. It is a victim of its own bungling.

There is a legal doctrine that says no one should be rewarded for their own wrongdoing, and the facts prove that Vancouver Energy’s own wrongdoing necessitated its extension request.

First, it filed an incomplete EFSEC application, which it is still amending. Second, it failed miserably in preparing a draft Environmental Impact Statement – So miserably that EFSEC legal counsel, Ann Essko, advised it needed a complete rewrite. EFSEC Manager Stephen Posner said that it “…did not meet even the basic requirement for fully describing and analyzing project impacts.”

By this time this column is published a public meeting will have been held and port commissioners will hopefully have followed staff’s recommendation and denied what would have been a very favorable extension for Vancouver Energy. Even a shorter extension is not warranted.

Our three year imbroglio may soon end. Commissioners have an absolute right to cancel the lease by August 1 and should waste no time in doing so.

Commissioner LaBrant was elected on a platform of canceling the lease. Commissioner Wolfe has said he would have voted “no” if he had known three years ago what he knows now. That’s a majority for cancellation.

We want the port to succeed, but to live its own “Port of Possibilities” vision, it must put this ill-advised oil storage project behind it or live with years more of uncertainty. Depending on Governor Inslee’s decision, state litigation could last until 2018. Likely federal court challenges to needed Corps of Engineers permits could add more years, more delay and more taxpayer cost.

Failure to act decisively now means a continued EFSEC process wasting everyone’s time and money. It leaves our community divided, and it postpones our port getting back to being the good economic steward we know it has been and wants to be again.

Jim Luce, former EFSEC chair, submitted this OpEd on behalf of Taxpayers for a Responsible Public Port. For more information about the group, visit their Facebook page at