After reconsidering impacts and county development codes, Clatsop County commissioners voted unanimously Wednesday to deny an application for a proposed liquefied natural gas (LNG) pipeline and terminal on 41 miles of county land.
The Board of Clatsop County Commissioners' decision marks the end of more than two years of legal challenges to a preliminary denial by the board in 2011.
However, Oregon LNG and the Oregon Pipeline Co., two affiliated companies seeking to construct the pipeline, say federal regulators will have the ultimate say. The board's denial was reached after a lengthy public hearing that included complaints of bias by the companies' lawyer.
The hearing reviewed how the project measured up with county land-use planning goals. County staff ultimately decided that parts of the pipeline project conflicted with zoning regulations for forest and shoreline acres within Clatsop County.
More than 70 opponents to the project listened intently as the board parsed pieces of the staff report and made modifications before adopting the recommendation for denial.
When the votes resulted in a unanimous decision, the audience stood up and applauded.
The Oregon Pipeline Company initially filed a consolidated land-use application for construction of a pipeline and terminal in Warrenton in October 2009. The county board in November 2010 — a board made up of four different members then — OK'd the application.
The board withdrew an initial approval in January 2011, resulting in a legal challenge by the companies proposing construction. Before the current board could reconsider findings, the case went to the Oregon Supreme Court, which decided not to hear the case, reverting to an Oregon Court of Appeal decision that found the Clatsop County board could reconsider the application.
The natural gas pipeline would connect with Williams Northwest Pipeline in Woodland, Wash., and wind its way 86 miles through Columbia and Clatsop counties to a terminal in Warrenton. The terminal was initially proposed as an import facility, but the proposal was changed to include the possibility for import and export capabilities.
Michael Connors, a lawyer representing Oregon LNG and the Oregon Pipeline Company, said that his clients didn't feel like they had a fair shot. He said his clients wanted to work cooperatively with the county through the process and show compliance with county code.
"Our willingness to do that was based on the assumption that we would have a fair process," he said.
Connors said that his clients felt the rug had been pulled from underneath them when board members changed and the withdrawal of the application was agreed upon.
"From our perspective, the difficulty and frustration is after spending all that effort and time working through this process in the blink of an eye all that was done away with," Connors said.
Columbia Riverkeeper, an organization focused on environmental protection of the Columbia River, became a part of the process when it appealed the 2010 decision to the Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA). Lauren Goldberg, staff attorney with the organization, was given an opportunity to address procedural and factual elements of the application.
Goldberg questioned why the companies had not gone over county jurisdiction in the first place if they didn't need local approval. The proposed project is currently under a review process with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).
Goldberg also addressed the concern of bias by Connors. "What's clear from the Land Use Board of Appeals decisions on this point is that a statement of personal dislike for an applicant's business is not sufficient to demonstrate bias, so long as it's stated on the record that that personal feeling is set aside," she said.
After hearing from both sides, commissioners reiterated that they were able to remove personal opinion from an analysis of the facts.
An issue of main concern by staff and the board was the adequacy of an Emergency Action Plan in the case of a fire or leak from the pipeline. Commissioners also considered the impacts of horizontal directional drilling, a proposed tactic by proponents for going underneath waterways to install the 36-inch diameter pipeline.
Commissioners considered the untested consequences of a "frac-out," the resulting failure of the drill sending fluid or drilling mud into a watershed, and saw it as hazardous and out of compliance with county land-use goals.
The board spent considerable time modifying language in the staff report, but ultimately decided to adopt the decision by staff to deny approval of the Oregon LNG application.
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