Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Benicia prepares for flow of cash from Valero deal

By Tony Burchyns / Times-Herald
Posted: 05/05/2010 01:05:58 AM PDT

BENICIA -- The City Council late Tuesday praised a citizens group, Valero and city officials before approving an agreement that will steer millions of dollars toward community projects during the next five years.

More than a year in the making, the agreement updates a 2008 settlement between the Good Neighbor Steering Committee and Valero to resolve a dispute over the refinery's environmental impacts. The original deal required Valero to pay for $14 million worth of environmental projects, with the bulk reserved for water conservation efforts.

The amended agreement, however, clarifies the use of the funds and the timing of desired projects in the city and the Benicia Unified School District, both of which are beneficiaries of the funds.

"It's nice being mayor ... to see something like this come to completion," Benicia Mayor Elizabeth Patterson said before the unanimous vote.

Patterson, who was once a member of the Good Neighbor Steering Committee before she was an elected official, thanked the group's members for countless hours of unpaid work in the city's interest.

"It's been a pleasure," Patterson added. "The conclusion is greatly appreciated."

Among other things, the deal will allow the city to finance the completion of a LEED-certified community center project at the old Mills Elementary School site, which the city is leasing from the school district. City officials Tuesday night said the project will go out to bid later this month and construction could be finished as soon as June 2011.

As for Valero, it gained the ability to use up to $3 million for a proposed water-conservation project at its Benicia plant. It is anticipated that the full project would save 40 million gallons of water a year by recycling condensation within the refinery's plumbing.

The agreement requires Valero to meet certain conditions to use the funds, which otherwise could go toward future unspecified community projects. Among other things, Valero must complete the project on time and demonstrate that it meets conservation targets.

"I'm glad we've come to agreement," Valero refinery spokesman Chris Howe told the council. "I am looking forward to it."

Dana Dean, spokeswoman for the Good Neighbor Steering Committee, said the agreement will provide funds for many environmental projects that will "ripple" through time.

Dean, also a Benicia school board member, added that the proposed Green Academy at Benicia High School wouldn't be funded without the agreement.

"Thirty years from now the money we are spending on it will still be in effect," Dean told the council.

The agreement ensures that Valero will provide $2 million per year for five years to the city.

The refinery has also agreed to make available up to $1 million to preserve undeveloped

Funds will also be provided for school district properties and programs, including a horticulture program at Liberty High School and a health lunch program at Benicia High.
Contact staff writer Tony Burchyns at or (707) 553-6831.

Why It Matters:
Benicia and its school district will receive $14 million for projects that city officials say would be otherwise undoable in this economy.