Ruling complicates path for Oregon LNG, raises questions in Gales Creek

The Oregon Court of Appeals ruled last week that Clatsop County officials still have the authority to deny permits for a proposed Oregon LNG natural gas pipeline.

This is another hiccup in Oregon LNG’s quest to build a liquefied natural gas export terminal on the Oregon Coast in Warrenton with a pipeline running through northwest Oregon.

In 2011, Clatsop County commissioners decided by a four-to-one vote to deny the pipeline application arguing the project did not comply with county law even though previous commissioners approved the zoning in 2010.

Oregon LNG argued the first decision was irreversible, but the court of appeals disagreed.

“This is a resounding victory for the citizens of Clatsop County,” said Brett VandenHeuval of Columbia Riverkeeper. “Oregon LNG attempted to subvert the democratic process by challenging the right of Clatsop County to take a second look at a dangerous pipeline proposal. Today’s decision casts serious doubt on the viability of Oregon LNG.”

Groups opposed to the pipeline and terminal say their fight isn’t over yet, however.

“We don’t know what Oregon LNG is going to do, so we don’t know what our next move will be,” VandenHeuval said. “We suspect they’ll keep pushing and we will keep up the pressure.”

Representatives of Oregon LNG did not return phone calls from the News-Times seeking comment.

With Clatsop County commissioners likely to uphold their latter decision and deny the permits for the pipeline, other parts of the state may find themselves on one of Oregon LNG’s preferred alternative pipeline routes.

A previous route for the pipeline, which would run through Washington County, remains an alternate path for Oregon LNG, according to VandenHeuval. He said the path is still listed on the company’s application to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

FERC is responsible for reviewing the project and compiling an environmental impact statement, which they will make available to the public in the next few months. The statement, which will detail the effects on the environment, communities and public health, must be completed before FERC can issue licenses to build the terminal project.

Environmental groups like Columbia Riverkeeper argue the project would pose man potential threats to the environment. The currently proposed 186-mile pipeline would run through agricultural and forest land, private property and through rivers and streams. Oregon LNG has also proposed to deepen the Columbia River by removing 1.2 million cubic yards of river bottom to dock LNG tankers and would require an additional 300,000 cubic yards removed every three years.

While the company claims the project will bring much needed jobs, others are worried about the safety of areas host to the terminals and pipeline. The proposed terminal will be built near an airport, in a Tsunami zone and on bedrock, and the facility has a three-mile hazard zone surrounding it, but Oregon LNG representatives say the terminal can operate safely.

Columbia Riverkeeper, Columbia-Pacific Commonsense and Wahkiakum Friends of the River also recently filed a lawsuit in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals challenging the Coast Guard’s 2009 recommendation that the Columbia River was not currently suitable for LNG traffic but could be made so. The citizens groups claim the Coast Guard made its recommendation without preparing an Environmental Impact Statement or considering the consequences for endangered species, in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act.

FERC hearings a couple weeks ago in Oregon cities most affected by the pipeline including Warrenton and Vernonia were well attended, with about 200 people attending the Warrenton hearing.

VandenHeuval was heartened that property owners in communities like Forest Grove and Gales Creek attended meetings, even though the current preferred pipeline route doesn’t run through their property.

“It was neat to see,” VandenHeuval said.

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