Nipomo Mesa Retirees Oppose New Oil Refinery Rail Terminal Citing Safety Concerns

Retirees are often presumed to spend their golden years relaxing, but one group of educated citizens is using their free time to fight against a proposed oil terminal that they say could lead to catastrophe.

According to the Los Angeles Times, former Irvine resident Linda Reynolds retired to Nipomo Mesa with her husband to start a new life on the Central Coast. They were always aware of a nearby oil refinery, but a proposal to expand its operations has given Reynolds and her neighbors cause for concern. In December 2013, Reynolds attended a San Luis Obispo County Planning Commission meeting where she learned the plant was considering building a rail terminal to ship crude oil over long distances.

There are approximately 200,000 miles of oil and refined product pipelines in the United States. Unfortunately, transporting oil over long distances can sometimes go awry, which is exactly what worries Reynolds and others in Nipomo Mesa.

The proposed rail terminal immediately caused Reynolds to flash back to other crude oil catastrophes that have happened over the course of her life, some just miles from her former Irvine home. For example, the Santa Barbara oil spill of 1969 impacted millions of birds, fish, and other aquatic animals.

More notably, a 2013 oil train derailment in Canada took 47 lives. According to the BBC, a $445 million settlement was recently handed down to the victims’ families after a train carrying 72 oil tankers derailed and exploded in downtown Lac Megantic, Quebec.

Tragic events like these are what worry Reynolds and her fellow retirees in the area. A group of residents ranging in age from 61-73 have banded together to oppose the oil rail terminal by presenting their case in front of the San Luis Obispo Planning Commission.

“We became concerned because we are within shouting distance of their proposed terminal,” said resident Martin Akel. “We saw a problem that affected health, safety, and our very way of life.”

The Phillips 66 Santa Maria Refinery needs county permission to construct the rail terminal, meaing that the retirees’ efforts to oppose the project could well prove successful. A Phillips representative recently said that the company remains committed to safety, as well as its rail expansion plans.

The Phillips 66 Santa Maria Refinery is actually quite reputable, boasting few safety mishaps and employing more than 100 locals.

The San Luis Obispo Planning Commission will address the matter in early 2016. Should they deny the proposal, it would go to the county Board of Supervisors, who will then decide the fate of the project.