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Jordan Cove has many rivers to cross

If the number of opponents and the passion of their cause were the determining factor, the proposed Jordan Cove liquefied natural gas export project and pipeline would be dead in the water. But that’s not how the approval process works. Still, opposition has grown steadily over the 14 years since the project was first floated, and the Canadian company behind it, Pembina, must clear a number of hurdles before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issues its final determination next fall.

More than 1,000 people, most of them opponents, turned out for a public hearing Tuesday night before the Department of State Lands at the Jackson County Expo. Hearings in Klamath Falls and Canyonville drew hundreds, and one in North Bend, where the liquefaction plant and export terminal are proposed, was sure to be packed on Thursday night. A final hearing will take place in Salem next week.

Supporters of the project are primarily members of labor unions that would benefit from temporary construction jobs on the pipeline and government officials who want the economic boost the project would bring to Coos Bay. Permanent jobs would number about 200, most of them on the coast.

These hearings deal only with the state removal-fill permit required for any project that removes or fills material around wetlands or waterways. The pipeline, which would carry natural gas from Malin to Coos Bay, would be installed underneath 485 waterways, including 88 in the Rogue Basin. The biggest such crossing involves drilling horizontally beneath the Rogue River just above Shady Cove. Dredging and fill work in Coos Bay are also subject to the permit.

The Department of State Lands is scheduled to issue its decision on the permit by March 5. And that’s only one step in the approval process.

FERC, which denied the project twice in 2016, is scheduled to issue a Draft Environmental Impact Statement on Pembina’s new application next month, kicking off a public comment period and hearings in March. The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality also must sign off on a permit under the Clean Water Act. That public comment period has closed; a decision is expected in September. In addition, the state Department of Land Conservation and Development will examine the project for compliance with state law under the federal Coastal Zone Management Act.

Opposition has brought together environmental groups and landowners who don’t want the pipeline crossing their properties. Jackson County commissioners have opposed the project on the grounds of protecting private property rights, and opponents raise legitimate questions about safety, earthquake and tsunami risk and environmental damage.

Pembina says it wants to reach financial agreements with property owners, but it is far from completing those, and the threat of eminent domain hangs over the proposal under the federal Energy Policy Act, which gives FERC the authority to grant eminent domain for pipeline projects.

Eminent domain allows the taking of private property with fair compensation in exchange for a public benefit. We don’t think exporting U.S. and Canadian gas for the profit of a Canadian company constitutes a public benefit.