PITTSBURG -- Opponents of the proposed WesPac oil storage and transfer facility say four out of five air samples collected within a couple miles of the project site show that the area already exceeds standards for particulate pollution set by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The Pittsburg Defense Council collected the samples between Dec. 14 and Dec. 31 after receiving training from Global Community Monitor, a Richmond-based group that trains people who live near industrial areas to take air samples. Particulate pollution includes dust, dirt, soot, smoke and other minute particles.

"These are places where people live, work and play," Ruth Breech, project director for Global Community Monitor, said while presenting the report at Tuesday's city council meeting during public comments.

Kalli Graham, of Pittsburg, looks out at the old storage tanks along 10th Street,  where the WesPac project plans to build a $200 million crude oil storage
Kalli Graham, of Pittsburg, looks out at the old storage tanks along 10th Street, where the WesPac project plans to build a $200 million crude oil storage and transfer facility next to a residential neighborhood, on Nov. 14, 2013. (Dan Rosenstrauch/Staff file)

The four samples above the EPA standards are considered unhealthy for sensitive populations, which include seniors, young children and people with weakened immune systems, she said.

"This is what your baseline is, where it stands right now without the additional emissions of a proposed WesPac facility," Breech said. The Pittsburg Defense Council took it upon itself to do the study because a current baseline air quality analysis was not included in the project's recirculated draft environmental impact report. An air monitoring station in Pittsburg operated by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District closed in 2008.

The Defense Council has launched a full-scale battle against the WesPac proposal in hopes of convincing city officials to reject the project, which would unload an estimated 88 million barrels of domestic and imported crude oil and partially refined crude oil annually that would be delivered by trains and ships to a storage facility on the western edge of town near homes, schools, churches and the Pittsburg Marina.

A final environmental report is expected to be released later this year. The project is not expected to come before the City Council for several months.

Several people spoke against the project at the meeting that was packed with WesPac opponents. "WesPac will destroy the community," said Taylor Sims, one of many Pittsburg High School students who is against the project. "WesPac is a danger to our health, safety, air and water. You need to say no to WesPac."

"The facility brings nothing to our community. All it does is dump a time bomb in our front yards," Pittsburg resident Michael Chiricuzio said.

"Do we really need a giant oil terminal in the middle of a residential area, putting homes, school and churches directly in harm's way?" said Diane Bailey, a senior scientist with the San Francisco office of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Irvine-based WesPac, along with Germany-based Oil Tanking, are behind the $200 million project. Supporters say the project will bring jobs and revenues to the city, make use of a vacant industrial parcel, and help refineries meet their future needs at a time when oil production in California is declining and existing storage is near capacity.

The first phase calls for building a component to unload domestic crude oil from North Dakota, Colorado, west Texas, and New Mexico that would be shipped in by 100 rail cars five days a week at an existing rail yard next to North Parkside Drive. Four of the 16 empty storage tanks once used by a former Pacific Gas and Electric Co. power plant to store fuel oil two decades ago would be upgraded to store the crude oil, which would be shipped by mostly underground pipelines to local refineries that ring the bay. The second phase calls for upgrading the marine terminal and remaining storage tanks on a 125-acre parcel next to what is now the NRG power plant.

Opponents contend the draft environmental report is inadequate and last week a letter from the state attorney general's office said the document fails to disclose many potential environmental impacts and risks associated with the project.

"WesPac is prepared to proceed through the full city environmental review process to assure that issues raised by everyone interested in the project are addressed fully and accurately. WesPac is committed to deliver a project that is fully mitigated, protects the Pittsburg community and the environment and delivers local jobs and needed revenues to the city and the community," Art Diefenbach, WesPac's vice president of engineering, wrote in an email.

After the meeting, Mayor Sal Evola said the environmental review process needs to be completed before any decision can be made by city officials.

"We as a government agency are obligated to process (WesPac's) application in a timely manner, and it deserves due process and a fair hearing," he said.