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Forest Grove anti-LNG group celebrates victory

Liquefied natural gas pipeline 'killed by a thousand cuts'


COURTESY PHOTO - With 150 people, Forest Grove OCAP was the largest of the four Willamette Valley OCAP chapters, which included Vernonia, Woodburn and Yamhill County.It was libertarians and librarians, farm owners and farmworkers, gun-toting NRA members and gun-control advocates. It was professors, engineers, teachers, students, doctors, anarchists and winery owners.

It was Forest Grove OCAP (Oregon Citizens Against the Pipelines).

The motley crew gathered one last time Friday, July 1, to celebrate a grassroots victory over Oregon LNG’s proposal to build a liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal on the Columbia River and a pipeline through northwest Oregon’s forests and fields.

On a beautiful summer evening, far from the national political scene’s polarizing vitriol, they also savored the magic of a unifying bond.

“There was no thought of ‘What political persuasion were you?’” said Judi Mar-Zaleski. “That was the beauty of this. It was a common cause.”

“The focus was to stop this juggernaut,” said Jim Zaleski, former director of the Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Clinic.

He was one of roughly 60 celebrants — some from as far away as Seaside and Vernonia — who showed up at Montinore Estate, which was once part of the proposed pipeline route. “There would have been a right-of-way the size of Sunset Highway going straight through this vineyard,” said local organizer and Gales Creek resident Paul Sansone.

“This is truly a David and Goliath story,” Zaleski said. “We were facing a corporation that had unlimited funds.”

In fact, Oregon LNG had proposed a $6 billion project, funded by Leucadia National Corporation. The company spent 12 years trying to get the required federal, state and local permits for its project.

Then April 15, Oregon LNG announced it would cease operations and thanked all the people who supported its effort “to bring good jobs and tax revenues to Warrenton and Clatsop County.”

The nonprofit Columbia Riverkeeper helped the citizen activists, as did state Reps. Chuck Riley and Debbie Boone, state Sen. Betsy Johnson and U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, all of whom played key behind-the-scenes roles, Sansone said. The Forest Grove City Council was the first elected body to publicly oppose the pipeline.

But it’s impossible to pinpoint a single hero, said Sansone, because “This project was killed by a thousand cuts.” His daughter, for example, delivered a cut when she met a friend of a friend who turned out to be well-connected to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which had the power to approve or reject the Oregon LNG project. “I was like, ‘Are you kidding? Can we talk business?’” said Sophia Sansone.

Vernonia resident Michael Calhoun delivered another cut while at Western Oregon University, where he noticed an article in his online hometown newspaper about a proposed pipeline. The environmental studies major called his parents, alerted them to the story and started the Vernonia chapter of OCAP.

Susan Vosburg, who ran the listserv for Forest Grove OCAP feels their success might give hope to other citizens’ groups fighting well-funded corporations.

“Now it’s the oil trains,” said Judi Mar-Zaleski.

“It just makes you feel good about democracy. It has a chance to work,” Vosburg said.