NPR Story
2:12 pm
Wed October 2, 2013

Environmental Groups Sue To Overturn Vancouver Oil Terminal Lease

Three environmental groups are suing the Port of Vancouver to overturn the approval of a lease for the Tesoro-Savage oil terminal.

Columbia Riverkeeper, the Sierra Club and the Northwest Environmental Defense Center say the Port of Vancouver Commission held an illegal executive session before approving the lease in July. They're asking the court to rescind the lease.

The Tesoro-Savage terminal would transport up to 380,000 barrels of oil through the Port of Vancouver.

The night before the port vommission approved a lease for the project, the board held a workshop with a public hearing followed by a closed-door executive session. Port Commission President Jerry Oliver told people in the audience twice that the board would discuss their comments in executive session.

"At the end of this workshop, this board will recess into executive session for a minimum of 15 minutes to discuss what we've heard here this evening and how that impacts our deliberations," Oliver said as the public meeting was coming to a close.

Washington public meetings law only allows the board to hold executive sessions for certain reasons. Discussing public comments isn't one of them.

Brett VandenHeuvel, executive director of Columbia Riverkeeper, said the board should reconsider its lease approval because some of its deliberations were done illegally behind closed doors.

"They deliberated in private, and the public has the right to be part of this discussion," he said. "Voting to approve such a controversial lease in a closed-door setting is inappropriate."

But considering the price of a real estate lease is a legal reason for holding an executive session

The Port says it did have a legal reason for holding an executive session. The reason stated in the meeting minutes is "to discuss real estate matters."

Port spokeswoman Katie Odem said the commission president didn't explain that reason properly.

"He described it differently," Odem said. "The way he described it, we probably could have handled that better but the content was appropriate and correct. The executive session was only used for real estate matters and it was done appropriately."

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