Imagine three 80-car trains per week, each filled with over 53,000 barrels of crude oil, chugging south through the heart of Monterey County.
Because of a proposed rail spur project at an oil refinery in south San Luis Obispo County, that possibility could become a reality, and yesterday, it took one step closer as San Luis Obispo County Planning Commission voted 3-2 to against a motion that would have denied the project.
The original proposal has been scaled back from five trains per week to three, and according to a May 16 article in The Tribune, a daily newspaper based in San Luis Obispo, that change helped it gain support from the majority of the commission.
During the next hearing for the project, on Sept. 22, the commission will consider its terms for approval.
The proposed project has become a divisive issue in San Luis Obispo County, as 437 people signed up to speak at the first two days of hearings in February.
Several local and state officials have sent letters to San Luis Obispo County in opposition of the project, including Mike Novo, former director of the Monterey County Planning Department. (Novo sent the letter before his recent retirement.)
In particular, Novo expressed concern that the trains would pass through Elkhorn Slough, and that the tracks become submerged during king tides.
"The fact that the rail line traverses the second largest estuary on the west coast (Elkhorn Slough) on tracks that are sometime under water, and through a series of communities in our county are of concern," Novo writes.
The letter asks that a full disclosure be made of the long term risks of exposure to crude oil, and states that 13,500 county residents are at risk in the event of an accident and include "some of the county's most vulnerable populations."
Additionally, in the event of an accident, Novo writes that the county would not be prepared to adequately respond.
At times, the trains would pass within mere feet of neighborhoods in Castroville and Salinas.