A six-month moratorium against oil and petroleum storage tanks seemingly had the support of every Mobile City Councilor during the Dec. 10 regular meeting, but they still pressed pause on the idea for at least three weeks.
Councilmen Fred Richardson and Levon Manzie sponsored a proposed ordinance that would temporarily halt the issuance of permits for companies looking to locate oil and/or petroleum storage facilities within a designated area of the city. The area that would protected from the storage units runs from north and south of Bay Bridge Road and New Bay Bridge Road, but is bounded on the east by the Mobile River and Mobile Bay and on the west by St. Stephens Road to Broad Street and to Interstate 10 to Dauphin Island Parkway until the city limits.
Manzie, who represents the affected area, said not every company looking to locate in Mobile is beneficial.
“All business is not good. We need to look at what direction we want Mobile to go in,” he said. “That’s why I and Councilman Richardson want to take 180 days to study, discuss and have people’s opinions. The six-month moratorium would allow that.”
Richardson warned Mobile would become the place for oil and petroleum storage since other places won’t have them.
“Canada won’t let them store oil and petroleum there so why are we? If we let this happen, we’ll get a hundred more applications for the same thing,” he said. “These oil products being piped and stored in Mobile pose eminent danger to the people of Mobile. I think this is very important that we take up this issue and have a six-month study. If we find it’s dangerous, then we should have a permanent moratorium.”
Council President Gina Gregory sent the proposed moratorium to the rules committee, which will discuss the matter on Dec. 19 at 11 a.m. Councilman John Williams, who chairs the rules committee, said he supports the moratorium and looks forward to hearing from citizens about the issue of storing oil and petroleum in Mobile.
“I want to hear from both sides on this during the Dec. 19 meeting, but I will say, I’m for having a moratorium to look at this,” he said. “I’m not completely against this kind of business in the city, but it needs to be looked at.”
The question of the moratorium will not be voted on until Dec. 31 at the earliest. However, Richard Olsen with the city’s Urban Development department said there are currently no applications for permits relating to oil or petroleum storage.
There was a previously approved permit for a storage facility in the designated area, but it expired in October. Council attorney Jim Rossler warned the council that it is only a matter of time before a company applies for a permit.
“My advice is if you want this moratorium, you should act quickly,” he said. “I’m almost certain an application for storage tanks in the area will come soon.”
One such possible instance is if American Tank & Vessel decides to bring back their proposed 32 oil storage units at 1000 Paper Mill Road. In September the company withdrew their proposal before it reached the Mobile Planning Commission, but it could come back at any time.
The site selected by American Tank and Vessel would have brought 32 tanks, 10 new railroad tracks, a pipeline station and barge dock. The 32 tanks would be able to hold up to 2,390,000 barrels of petroleum-based products.
Then-Mayor Sam Jones said he believed the company realized the planning commission was going to deny it and decided to withdraw rather than being denied. The benefit to withdrawing a plan is that the company can resubmit a plan to the planning commission at any time. If the company would have been denied, then the business is forced to wait six months before submitting to the planning commission again.
The American Tank & Vessel proposal never stated what type of oil was going to be held in the tanks.
Tom Hutchings of EcoSolutions and founder of the Alabama Coastal Foundation spoke to the council on Dec. 10 in favor of the moratorium.
“Storage tanks bring no jobs, but there is a great amount of risk,” he said. “I truly hope the council protects Mobile from this.”
Many other people in support of the moratorium were set to speak to the council on Dec. 10, but decided to hold their comments until the Dec. 19 meeting.