Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Supes split on Greka spill

BY COLBY FRAZIER
DAILY SOUND STAFF WRITER

An effort by Second District Supervisor Janet Wolf to get an official briefing by Santa Barbara County agencies on a 34,000-gallon oil spill at a North County Greka Energy facility failed yesterday with a divisive north county, south county split.
The board voted 2-2 against having a formal presentation by county staff and other agencies, which instead had to voice their remarks during the public comment period.

Wolf said she believed the oil spill, combined with three other incidents at nearby Greka Energy facilities in the past month, which in total have spilled more than 40,000 gallons of oil onto local soil, warranted a discussion on the board agenda.
“I believe it’s important for this board to hear from our local agencies,” she said during yesterday’s meeting. “We had in my mind what is an environmental emergency and that it was the appropriate time to listen to our staff about what has been done.”
Her request made it onto the board’s “X-agenda,” but in order for an item on that agenda to make it onto the official agenda, it must be voted on.
Wolf said she first requested the item appear on the X-agenda last Friday after she heard of the spill.
But Fifth District Supervisor Joe Centeno and Third District Supervisor Brooks Firestone, who voted against putting the item on the official agenda, said they believed the time wasn’t right.
“I think the point is well taken that there is a problem,” Firestone said of the Greka facility involved in the spill. “I am concerned about the appropriateness of the X-agenda, a rushed hearing, a hearing that takes place without real staff preparations and a true investigation of all the issues involved here.”
Centeno said it is his “desire and intent” to place a detailed discussion about Greka and other oil and gas company issues on the board’s departmental agenda at a later date, which he said would allow for a more detailed discussion where all parties have the ability to thoroughly prepare.
“I want to go bigger and beyond the [the X-agenda],” Centeno said. To have a “comprehensive analyses of what’s happened with this company. We can’t do that today.”
But Wolf maintained that yesterday’s discussion, had it made it onto the agenda, was timely, relevant, and necessary - and would not have required any action on behalf of the board, only listening.
And Wolf wasn’t shy about expressing her disbelief that Firestone and Centeno didn’t want to hear that discussion concurrent with the cleanup operations at the Greka facility, which is located at 6605 Palmer Rd.
“I’m dumbfounded,” Wolf said after the meeting. “It was very simple. I just wanted to get a report on where we are and that was it.
“What happened Friday was a terrible thing to happen in the county and I just think it’s our responsibility to hear from staff.”
Wolf said she realized all of the solutions and issues surrounding the oil spill wouldn’t be worked out at this stage, and that she also wanted to have a larger, more in-depth meeting later, but that didn’t mean a smaller discussion couldn’t be held yesterday.
County Fire Capt. Eli Iskow, who was one of the numerous county representatives who showed up at the meeting expecting to give an official briefing, said the fact that the board didn’t vote in favor of an all-out presentation didn’t bother him.
“I don’t know that it was a problem,” Iskow said. “We got to put it up as public comment and that’s OK.”
Iskow said the later date will give the fire department more time to talk with other agencies involved in oil and gas facility regulation and understand the issues more fully before appearing in front of the board.
Wolf’s ally in the vote came from First District Supervisor Salud Carbajal, who strongly supported his South County colleague in having an in-depth discussion during yesterday’s meeting. Fourth District Supervisor Joni Gray was not present.
“There’s a lot of issues here that we really need to start addressing,” Carbajal said. “This is a serious nuisance.”
Carbajal questioned if the recent spate of Greka oil spills, which carries with it more than 250 air quality violations issued by the County Air Pollution Control District since 1999, doesn’t warrant much stronger restrictions.
“Is this such a nuisance that it may be time to take more aggressive action and shut this company down?” Carbajal asked. “If there was ever a poster child against oil development it’s Greka.”
The board scheduled a broader discussion to occur on Jan. 15, the board’s second meeting of the new year.
Wolf noted that this date will be more than a month after the spill, and the cleanup will likely have been concluded and the facility reopened at that time.
While the Board of Supervisors argued about how and when to hold the discussion, the County Fire Department issued a preliminary list of 26 violations it had discovered at the facility during its preliminary investigation.
The list varies from fire extinguishers not being properly mounted to faulty pipes and tanks, all of which need to be fixed or replaced before the facility, which was shut down by officials after the spill, can be reopened.
Once the oil spill is completely cleaned up, which is estimated to take until Dec. 22 by California Department Fish & Game officials, Iskow said the list of citations could grow.
Until then, State Assemblyman Pedro Nava sent a letter to Fish & Game officials yesterday, urging them do everything in their power to tighten the reigns on Greka and other energy companies and hold them accountable for mishaps.
“When the investigation is complete,” Nava’s letter says. “If it is determined that Greka was again in violation of any local, state, or federal laws, I urge that they be held accountable, referrals where appropriate made and the responsible parties be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, including civil and or criminal penalties.”
After taking a tour of the Greka facility on Monday, Nava said he plans to introduce legislation as early as January that would increase restrictions on facilities like Greka, which owns 56 holdings in the county and is the largest of its kind locally.
But while the County Fire Department and Air Pollution Control District say they are doing all they can to regulate Greka and other energy companies, spills persist, and Iskow realizes there is a problem somewhere.
“It looks like the system we all use isn’t working well enough,” he said. “So it’s time to think about other ways to achieve the goals of public safety in regards to our local oil and gas industry.”

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

There is no such thing as an X-agenda. As exciting as that might be in today's reality-tv world, the writer misunderstands the term.

The correct term is "ex-agenda" meaning, "Not on the agenda".

psturken@gmail.com said...

Thanks for keeping us apprised of BOS activities.

Peter Sturken
2nd District

citizenRB said...

Unbelievable that they or two of them, Firestone, Centeno, did not want to hear or the public to hear what's happening, what's being done, what the issues are. I don't know what Iskow meant about public comment, but this should have been an emergency item on the agenda.

Thanks to Wolf and to Nava for working on this. I voted for neither of them in the last elections, but I appreciate their enviro. efforts.