HELEN FANICK Volatile Neighborhood BY HELEN FANICK San Antonio THE KOCH REFINING tank battery grew quietly on an East Side site that backs up to other industrial and storage plants. Houston Street is moderately busy, and anyone entering the J. Frank Dobie postal substation or the City Public Service office is watching traffic rather than construction. When area residents finally began to notice the eight enormous tanks, the story went around that they were water tanks. An engineer who lives near the site says he called the public service office and asked what was going on next door. “I was told that the tanks were for water processing and storage,” he said. “When I called back a week later, they said ‘they may be some sort of oil tanks.'” Finally, word that the tanks would store 16 million gallons of diesel fuel, jet fuel, and gasoline flooded the neighborhood. When East Side residents asked about the laws governing such facilities, they learned that Koch had broken no regulations by building a tank battery less than 1,500 feet from Sam Houston High School and Jefferson Davis Middle School. “We have safety controls over pipelines, but have very little jurisdiction over above-ground storage facilities. This function has been left up to the cities for regulation,” Tom Duffy of Railroad Commissioner John Sharp’s office said. State Rep. Karyne Conley, who represents the 120th District, and the Metro Alliance, a city-wide non-partisan public issues organization affiliated with the Industrial Areas Foundation, led the effort to find out what could be done once the tanks were already in place. A public hearing requested by the Metro Alliance was held in December. Marcia Welch, a Metro Alliance spokesperson said, “We are angry that the Koch Company … is treating the lives of our children so casually. We are demanding three back-up systems to ensure safety, a viable evacuation plan, an independent consultant to monitor the facility, and necessary equipment to fight any potential fire.” Many at the hearing complained they knew nothing about the fuel dump until it was too late to even comment on it. Assistant City Manager William Donahue said that there had been public notice “not necessarily adequate, but notice.” San Antonio Senator Frank Tejeda was critical of the public notice Donahue described. “Yes, but who reads the back pages of the Commercial Register?” Helen Fanick is a freelance writer who lives about one-and-a-half miles from the new Koch tank battery in San Antonio. Tejedaasked. Though he insisted that notice had been given, Donahue suggested that the process needed to be improved. “We believe the most important thing at this point,” Donahue said, “is to go back and look at all our ordinances.” In a response to a question about how the site was selected, Donahue said, “The site selection process began in November, 1988. It was an issue which was brought to the city by the Economic Development Foundation [a city-funded agency organized to attract business to the area], which worked with the city on the matter.” But some who spoke at the hearing complained that the storage plant will do little for economic development on the East Side. The fuel dump will employ only three workers, who aren’t likely to be hired locally. Others raised questions about the adequacy of city fire-fighting equipment, observing that the nearest foam equipment is in Corpus Christi, three hours away. Mayor Lila Cockrell asked Assistant City Manager Donahue, who is in charge of the fire department, to respond. “We sat around today and talked about the worst case scenario,” Donahue said. “Should there be a fire or explosion, and if we looked at past history, it most likely would be caused by lightning. I’ve heard various suggestions as to what may occur … many of them, truthfully, have been exaggerated.” Donahue said that if fire should erupt in all tanks at the same time, the “maximum deleterious effect” would be the appearance of a vapor cloud, causing a pressure reaction which would “remove, or blow out the windows.” No structural damage, he said, would result. “Could we put it out? Yes. As effectively as we wish? No. Are we going to look for additional equipment? Yes.” Jane Macon, a local attorney who represents Koch, introduced the speaker for the company. “Koch is here tonight as a good neighbor, a good corporate citizen, which we of San Antonio invited to San Antonio … They invested a multi-million dollar investment on the East Side. …” Koch project manager Dan Stecklein said San Antonio was chosen because it is a fast-growing city with progressive leadership. He cited a problem with product supply in this area, and said the fuel dump is a good opportunity for Koch and San Antonio. “We chose the site based on zoning, access to major highways and railroads, and also, it was in the vicinity of other terminals … we got together with the Economic Development Foundation in choosing this site,” Stecklein said. Stecklein also addressed safety. “All a petroleum products terminal is, is basically, in a simplified way, a gas station,” he told the skeptical crowd. Stecklein referred to the many safety features of the facility, which previously were described as “state-of-theart” by city officials. They include a packed clay base under the tanks to make the soil impervious to spilled petroleum products, a dike that will hold 1.4 times the maximum volume of the tanks, and other safety features built into the tanks. A satellite system will monitor Koch’s operation from Corpus Christi to Fort Worth, generating information every three seconds on the precise quantity of fuel in each tank. In the area where trucks will be filled, strict safety regulations have been devised to prevent static electricity. And measures will also be in place to
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