City staff will take a close look at the rebuilding of a burned-out crude unit at the Chevron refinery, share all documentation with the public and may require unsatisfactory work to be disassembled and redone, the City Council decided Tuesday with a 5-1-1 vote.
The resolution brought by Mayor Gayle McLaughlin was an expansion of a similar resolution adopted Oct. 2 directing city staff to require the refinery rebuild the crude unit using the "best available technology" for safety and emission reductions.
The crude processing unit was badly damaged in an Aug. 6 fire caused by a corroded pipe that injured several workers and sent more than 15,000 people to area hospitals seeking treatment.
The revised directive followed weeks of news reports and statements by Chevron officials that it will rebuild the existing unit largely to previous specifications and not increase production, leading Richmond elected officials and environmentalists to believe Chevron intends to ignore calls for major upgrades in safety and emission technology.
"We have real concerns that we may not be seeing the best available technology" in the rebuild, McLaughlin said. "This (resolution) is a call for transparency, reflection, examination, exploration and seeking out the best available technology."
No Chevron officials spoke at Tuesday's meeting, but a Chevron representative said at a Bay Area Air Quality Management District board meeting Monday
that the refinery won't repair equipment damaged in the fire until regulators' safety concerns are resolved regarding the type of metal used in replacement pipes, which carry high temperature oils. Chevron has said it plans to finish refinery repairs in the first quarter of 2013.
But Tuesday's meeting also exposed a rift between elected officials and city staff, who provide building and safety permits for new construction in the city, including work at the refinery.
"It has been upsetting to me over the last couple of weeks to learn that permits are going forward," McLaughlin said. "It's been pretty frustrating."
City Manager Bill Lindsay was not present Tuesday. Last week, he said he felt city staff had faithfully followed the council's Oct. 2 directive but cautioned that assessing the technology at the refinery was "complex" and that city staff welcomed consultation from community groups about what constitutes "best technology" in the rebuild.
Included in Tuesday's resolution were directives that staff provide public reports throughout the permit process, push for information releases from Chevron and the various federal and state agencies investigating the fire, accept input from independent organizations and use "inherently safer systems."
The resolution directs Lindsay to submit a formal letter to the energy corporation explaining the city's expectations.
More than a dozen residents spoke in favor of the resolution.
Richmond resident Mike Parker said the city has a responsibility to hold Chevron to tough standards.
"We clearly have a safety problem at the refinery," Parker said.
Councilman Corky Booze abstained from the vote, and Councilman Nat Bates voted no. Both said the council was acting on ideology rather than science. Bates noted that Lindsay has called for a meeting next week with city staff, investigatory agencies and Chevron officials.
"This council knows nothing about refineries," Bates said. "I am going to wait for the intelligent people to come forward with recommendations."
Distributed by MCT Information Services
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