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City, Chevron and Environmentalists Continue Settlement Discussions as Workers Leave Refinery Job Site

City, Chevron and environmentalists continue settlement discussions as workers leave refinery job site

By Katherine Tam
West County Times

Posted: 07/15/2009 04:12:43 PM PDT

Updated: 07/15/2009 05:35:22 PM PDT


Settlement talks are scheduled to continue today as the City of Richmond, Chevron and several environmental groups try to reach a middle ground after a court ruling halted construction at the local refinery.

About 1,000 workers have been laid off from Chevron's project to replace its hydrogen plant, power plant and reformer to refine a wider range of crude oil with more sulfur. A hundred workers remain to tie up loose ends and demobilize, said Brent Tippen, refinery spokesman.

Union leaders and workers are urging officials to do what they can to get construction back on track.

"I was thinking there'd be 15 (more) months of work," said Dennis Roos, an electrician from Richmond who was laid off after three months. "I'm used to working and I'd rather work than be on unemployment. I'm hoping that whatever the issues, they can get it worked out."

The groups that sued say they don't want anyone losing their jobs either, but it's important to fully analyze a project's environmental impacts before it's built to ensure it's safe for the public. Jobs and an environmental analysis should not be pitted against each other, they said.

"Jobs and health our residents know that the future of Richmond depends on both," said Mimi Ho, program director at the Asian Pacific Environmental Network.

The network joined the West County Toxics Coalition and Communities for a Better Environment in a lawsuit against the city and Chevron in September, contending the environmental impact report did not disclose that the project would enable refining of heavier crude that could increase pollution.

On July 2, a Contra Costa Superior Court judge ordered construction stopped until the report is clarified.

Chevron has insisted that its project is about replacing old equipment for safety and efficiency, and that it will keep refining light to intermediate crude oil. The company plans to appeal in state court, Tippen said.

Also on Wednesday, Chevron and the city announced the 19 community groups that would receive $565,000 under the now-defunct community benefits agreement. The amount is about half the $1 million the agreement outlined.

Under that $61 million pact, Chevron was to provide funding over 10 years for city police, job training and other programs, and pay for air quality improvements at its plant. The agreement is contingent on the refinery's construction permits being approved. Because the court ordered permits be set aside, the agreement has ended.

The $1 million for nonprofit groups this year was being doled out in cycles. Chevron had allotted $565,000, though it had not been spent, when construction stopped. Tippen said the company will give that money as promised.

The grant recipients are organizations that run job training, school and other programs. Individual grants ranged from $2,000 to $117,054.

Catholic Charities of the East Bay received the largest grant, which it will use to provide free classes to English language learners twice a day, five days a week for 10 months, said Lisa Raffel, who heads the Richmond location. Its language center serves 300 students a year.

A committee of city officials, Chevron representatives and community members reviewed 67 applications totaling $4 million, said Vice Mayor Ludmyrna Lopez, who sits on the committee. She said she hoped funding could resume soon.

"I'm hopeful that the discussions will resolve the outstanding issues," Lopez said. "During these hard economic times, charitable organizations also experience the money crunch and the purpose of this was to provide financial support."

Reach Katherine Tam at 510-262-2787 or ktam@bayareanewsgroup.com.