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Offshore Oil Terminal Won't Reopen

Environment: Huntington Beach community groups are thrilled as Pat Robertson's CENCO drops plans to use the terminal.

October 03, 1998|PETER M. WARREN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Facing the ire of Huntington Beach officials and neighborhood groups, televangelist Pat Robertson has dropped plans to reopen an offshore oil terminal that was the site of a devastating spill eight years ago, city officials announced late Friday.

"The decision today means that the shoreline in Huntington Beach is going to be protected," Mayor Shirley S. Dettloff said. "We have vivid memory of the spill, and we never want to see that repeated."

City attorneys made clear to Robertson's CENCO Refining Co. that the "city adamantly opposed plans" to use Huntington Beach-based Golden West Refining Co.'s terminal--including a tank farm and offshore oil buoy--to supply crude to a Santa Fe Springs refinery, Dettloff said.

Key in the decision to quit Huntington Beach, according to neighborhood groups and city officials, was a City Council vote two weeks ago to sue CENCO if it did not drop the plan to ship crude through the city.

"We were willing to go to court," Dettloff said.

CENCO's change of heart was announced after a meeting Friday in the office of Orange County Supervisor Jim Silva in Santa Ana, Dettloff said. Also at the meeting were lawyers for the Waterfront Hilton Beach Resort, which was among those opposing the plan.

Robertson formed CENCO in March to reopen the defunct Powerine Oil Refinery in Santa Fe Springs. The plan was to pump crude from the tankers off Huntington Beach through a pipeline to the refinery.

Craig Moyer, a lawyer for CENCO, would not comment Friday. He said previously that CENCO could still decide to operate the 50,000-barrel-a-day refinery by acquiring crude elsewhere, perhaps shipping it through pipelines from a Long Beach terminal. Santa Fe Springs officials have not opposed the project, which could mean 300 jobs for the city.

In Huntington Beach, meanwhile, community groups responded with glee to Friday's announcement.

"We are absolutely thrilled," said David Guido, president of the Huntington Beach Coastal Community Assn., which was formed to fight the plan. The group now wants to see the "rusting oil tanks" dismantled on the 20-acre Golden West site, he said.

"Then, we will know nothing can be stored there," he said. "And we will all sleep better."

John Scott, chairman of the 400-family Southeast Huntington Beach Neighborhood Assn., said no one in the city could forget the oil tanker American Trader's 416,000-gallon spill, which fouled 15 miles of coastline in 1990.

"We just don't want Huntington Beach to be another oil city," he said. "The days of that are past. Now, it is a new image of tourism."

Community groups had said the CENCO plan would have had a tanker unload every eight days, which was four times as often as under the previous operations. The terminal, off Newland Street, has been shut for several years.

"It would have been limited only by the ability of the pipeline to move the oil," Scott said.

The 1990 spill was Orange County's worst environmental disaster. The American Trader ran over its anchor while moored at the offshore buoy, puncturing its hull and spewing crude oil that blackened county beaches for weeks.

Huntington Beach officials and local groups had called for a full environmental review of the CENCO proposal. The city filed formal opposition to it in August with the South Coast Air Quality Management District, which must extend the lapsed Powerine permit before CENCO can begin operations. Neighborhood groups wrote letters of protest.

City officials argued that the project would adversely affect air quality through emissions from the refinery and exhaust from oil-delivery trucks.

Some Santa Fe Springs residents, environmental groups and businesses also wrote letters to the AQMD opposing the refinery's reopening.

The Powerine refinery would use a modified form of hydrofluoric acid to boost octane in its gasoline. The chemical is one of the most toxic used in industry. If spilled, some forms of the compound are capable of drifting in low, deadly clouds across miles of terrain.

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