The Huntington Beach Planning Commission voted Tuesday to uphold the city's decision to allow a property owner to remove three oil tanks, but the head of a local nonprofit said his group plans to appeal.
Commissioner Mark Bixby appealed the January approval of Plains All American Pipeline's plan to demolish three empty above-ground crude oil storage tanks and about 2,340 linear feet of above-ground transfer piping at 21845 Magnolia St.
The zoning administrator approved the project Jan. 19, and Bixby appealed the decision two days later, claiming the project could have negative environmental impacts. However, staff recommended that the commission approve the project, and it passed Tuesday by a 5-2 vote.
Plains All American approached the city late last year with a proposal to remove the oil tanks and piping, grade the site to an even level and leave it vacant. The above-ground pipelines on the 41-acre site extend through an adjacent parcel owned by the Huntington Beach Wetlands Conservancy.
Although the property owner plans to remove the tanks, it would leave the outside piping in place, which proved to be the bone of contention at the meeting.
Gordon Smith, the conservancy's chairman, said the pipelines would create blight and hinder his group's restoration efforts.
"As long as this easement is in place, and those useless lines cross our land, we can't fully restore the wetlands," he told the commission.
Smith's group also passed out copies of a letter written to the city by the state Coastal Conservancy, which argued that the pipelines and tanks amounted to a single project and should be removed jointly.
Smith said after the meeting that he planned to appeal the commission's decision to the City Council.
Some commission members shared his concerns, saying the city should further study the environmental impacts of leaving the pipes in place after the tanks had been removed. At one point, Bixby showed photos of the property that he said showed corrosion of the building materials.
"This really is one big system, and by my thinking, we're doing some piecemealing here," he said.
Bixby and Blair Farley voted against the project.
Bixby, in his appeal, opposed the project partly because he believed the structures, if left unmaintained, could deteriorate and result in lead-based paint flaking and leakage of petroleum residue.
The city, in its response, said Plains All American would clean and maintain the piping and that lead and petroleum leakages would not be a problem.
Ngiadi Gicuhi, an environmental engineer for Plains All American, said at the meeting that the company would keep the pipes in working condition, in part because it may use them for a future project.
"They'll pretty much be maintained as though they were active lines," he said.