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Aerial view of Mirant Corporation's natural gas fired generator formerly owned by PG&E. Photographed on Tuesday, January 2, 2001 in Pittsburg, Calif. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group Archives)

PITTSBURG -- At a community forum on WesPac's proposal to transform a vacant marine terminal and empty storage tanks into a crude oil and storage facility, resident Louise Hirschman asked a question on the minds of many: "Why here? Why build it here, where people live and work and play?" she asked.

"Because it is already existing," Art Diefenbach, vice president of engineering of Irvine-based WesPac, told the more than 75 residents who attended this week's forum at the Pittsburg Yacht Club. "It was built to bring in oil. There is already the storage tanks. There is already the pipelines to refineries."

And therein lies the rub: Irvine-based WesPac, in partnership with OilTanking, a Germany-based company, sees the existing location as an opportunity for a project to help refineries meet their future needs when California's crude oil production is declining and existing storage is at near-capacity.

Diefenbach said the project will create 300 union construction jobs, 40 permanent jobs, bring revenues to Pittsburg and spend about $5 million a year in local business expenses. But many residents have concerns about the project being built at that site, which is near the Pittsburg Marina, homes, churches and parks.

The first phase of the $200 million project calls for building a component to unload domestic crude oil from 100 rail cars a day five times a week at an existing rail yard next to North Parkside Drive and upgrading four of the existing 16 storage tanks used by a former Pacific Gas and Electric power plant to store fuel oil two decades ago. The second phase calls for upgrading the marine terminal and remaining storage tanks at a 125-acre parcel next to what is now the NRG power plant.

An average of 242,000 barrels of crude or partially refined crude oil would be unloaded daily from marine vessels carrying imported crude and rail cars hauling crude from North Dakota, Colorado, west Texas and New Mexico. Oil would be stored in the tanks then transferred via pipelines to local refineries.

The project's final environmental impact report is expected to come out soon. Planning commissioners tentatively will consider a use permit for the $200 million project in mid-January while the City Council could act on the environmental impact report as early as mid-February.

During the hourlong forum at the Yacht Club, Diefenbach said, "We are designing every safety precaution we know of to ensure a safe project," including modernizing the storage tanks to prevents leaks and spills.

A resident pointed out many new houses were built near the marina after the storage tanks and marine terminal were no longer used.

"Now we have (new) neighborhoods, and you are wanting to infringe on our health and well being by putting in this great big crude industrial oil thing," she said. "You should really stop and think how the area is now compared to 30 years ago."

Diefenbach said he appreciated her concerns, and that the project was going through a thorough environmental review process. Responding to concerns about noise, Diefenbach said he would look into whether rail operations to unload crude oil could be done during the day.

Another resident asked how many of the 300 construction jobs would go to Pittsburg residents. Diefenbach said because of an agreement signed with a local building trades council, those jobs would be based on seniority and not residency.

Frank Teiche wondered about property values. "In the last 15 to 20 years, the city has done a wonderful job of (redeveloping) our city. We have a beautiful marina. ... Are you going to guarantee us we are not going to lose money on housing?"

Diefenbach said he could not control future property values. "We really hope it shouldn't change the value because the tanks are already there," he said.

"But they are not in use," Teiche said.

"The facilities are declining now, and I would hope that a more vibrant and active facility would be more beneficial than one that is in decay," Diefenbach said.

Contact Eve Mitchell at 925-779-7189. Follow her on Twitter.com/EastCounty_Girl.