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Opponents make final push to block Anacortes refinery expansion

An Anacortes oil refinery is getting pushback from opponents that fear an environmental catastrophe. Supporters claim their concerns are overblown.

Nearly 200 people packed a Skagit County Commission hearing Tuesday, awash in a sea of red shirts, acting as a symbolic stop sign against the Tesoro oil refinery.

"I encourage you to think about your grandchildren, my grandchildren. This place will either have been protected because of the actions you've taken or it will be a dead zone," said Decatur Island resident Janice Huseby.

Tesoro wants to start processing a volatile chemical called Xylene, used in the production of plastics. It is a cousin to gasoline.

The proposal has already been approved by Skagit County, but opponents are appealing, saying the county hasn't considered the full environmental and economic impact of a potential spill.

An additional 60 ships carrying 15,000 barrels of Xylene a day would navigate a narrow passage through Puget Sound.

"We know that through Guemes Channel, all of the proposed shipping would double the potential risk," said Kyle Loring, an attorney representing Friends of the San Juans.

Refinery attorneys, however, argued that risk is minimal and the project has already been approved by the state departments of ecology and natural resources.

"There are no additional risks associated with that," said Tesoro's Diane Myers. "There is no change to the baseline as a consequence of this project."

In fact, part of the 400-million-dollar project would actually make the air around Anacortes cleaner and bring 20 family wage jobs.

Supporters like Ron McHenry said the refinery is a good neighbor.

"They invest in the environment, they invest in safety and they invest in education."

Skagit County commissioners will announce their decision to allow the appeal or permit the project to move forward on March 9th.

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