Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Redifuel Meeting Produces Termoil

Michelle Mondo
San Antonio Express-News Staff Writer
A raucous final public meeting to discuss a rezoning case involving two, million-gallon fuel tanks drew a crowd of about 150 people to Sam Houston High School on Jan. 23.

That crowd included some high school students who donned white T-shirts emblazoned with red letters that stated: "Stop Environmental Racism: No More Fuel Storage Tanks."

District 2 City Councilwoman Sheila McNeil scheduled the meeting to hear more opinions on the rezoning requested by Redifuel. City Council is scheduled to consider the change at Thursday's meeting. McNeil asked for a 30-day continuance at the council's Jan. 4 meeting.

Redifuel wants to build its corporate headquarters and two fuel-storage tanks on property on Corner Parkway along Loop 410 between the Interstate 35 and Interstate 10 corridors. The rezoning request is to change the property from Industrial 1 to Industrial 2, which would allow the construction of tanks.

The Zoning Commission approved the request in November.

Redifuel, a San Antonio-based company, currently is located on Binz-Engleman Road, tucked away among fuel giants such as ExxonMobil, Valero and Citgo, all owners of existing pipelines. It has fewer than 20 employees and provides emergency diesel fuel to generators at hospitals, dialysis centers and other facilities in the city.

The two-hour meeting began with a statement from McNeil and a presentation from Redifuel consultant Tommy Calvert Jr.

The outcry from the opposition at the meeting was simple — no more fuel storage tanks on the East Side. Individuals and groups expressed the opinion that it did not matter that Redifuel already has been on the East Side for three years or that they plan to build a "green" building.

"You can say it's going to be safe, but people make mistakes," said Wray Hood, president of the Coliseum/Willow Park Neighborhood Association.

James L. Grant, chairman of an East Side unit of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or ACORN, said the East Side is tired of being seen as a location only good enough for industrial development.

"The East Side is tired of being dumped on," Grant said.

But it wasn't all bad for John Sheesley, owner of Redifuel, who also had supporters at the meeting, including T.C. Calvert, the president of the Neighborhoods First Alliance; a handful of Redifuel employees; and Ray Martin, the mayor of Kirby. Martin, who mentioned his 20 years in the fire service, always has voiced support for the project.

"A lot of people are wondering why I'm here," Martin said. "It's in the backyard of Kirby."

"So take them to Kirby," someone shouted, trying to heckle Martin.

"I would if I could," Martin replied.

He also asked people in the audience if they knew the current location of Redifuel and the location of the proposed 8-acre site where Sheesley hopes to build his corporate office and install the new tanks. People shook their heads.

"I bet some of you couldn't even drive to it," Martin said.

Sheesley and Redifuel supporters often have said that the opposition does not want to be educated on the topic and simply is opposing it because it has to do with fuel tanks. In previous meetings, Sheesley has explained that the red diesel fuel he transports is not as flammable as the gasoline and other fuels transported by the global conglomerates that surround his business.

As for the Redifuel office building, Calvert Jr. pointed out that the architects are designing a state-of-the-art building certified to meet the standards of the Leadership in Energy and Environmental DesignGreen Building Rating System, also known as LEED.

Sheesley's main point has been that the tanks also are state-of-the-art. The fuel would be encased in concrete, surrounded by 600,000 gallons of water and then by a 12-foot protective concrete wall, he said.

Victor Villarreal, president of the East Village Neighborhood Association, said his organization supports the project.

"We're close to the current location," he said. "They came and brought this to the people affected."

T.C. Calvert said he was pleased that Sheesley was willing to put a foam-dispensing fire truck on his property to deal with spills if they occur.

Still, vocal opposition came from individuals as well as two organized environmental groups — the Southwest Workers' Union, or SWU, and Residents Organized for a Safe Environment.

Jill Johnston environmental justice organizer for SWU, asked the council to rezone the East Side to completely get rid of industrial zones.

"The community has the right to decide," she said. "The pipelines don't have to mean more storage tanks."

David Arevalo, leader of Residents Organized for a Safe Environment, supplied the T-shirts and placards featuring the "Stop Environmental Racism" slogan.

Arevalo repeatedly has said that the East Side does not need any more tanks — no exceptions. When he spoke at the podium, several Sam Houston High School students, wearing the T-shirts, stood behind him waving the placards.

Two of those students, freshman Julius Holloway, 14, and junior Josh Lewis, 17, said later that they didn't want "explosives" near the school. When asked what they meant by explosives, they said gasoline. The boys admitted they did not know what Redifuel was, where the business is located now or where the new site would be. They did say they were told that the site was "right here at Sam Houston."

The proposed site is approximately four or five miles north of the high school.

At the end of the meeting, Rosa Wilsonan East Side resident, said she did not feel any questions were answered.

"I came here in order to get a clear understanding of the issue," she said. "This meeting was to answer questions. But I didn't get those answers. People were just belligerent."

In the end, the final decision will be made by McNeil and her City Council colleagues. If the rezoning request is denied, Sheesley must wait another year before reapplying. Redifuel's current location already is zoned to allow fuel-storage tanks. Sheesley has said if the company does not get the zoning change soon, he may have to put the new tanks at his current location.

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