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Property owners fight natural gas pipeline

When Bob Barker strolls down the path behind the comfortable Shady Cove retirement home he and his wife, Gail, own alongside the Rogue River, he would prefer to be thinking about lunker salmon lurking in the river's depths.

Instead, he worries about the gas pipeline explosion last Thursday in San Bruno, Calif., which killed four people and leveled 40 homes.

"Safety is always an issue with something like this — what happened in San Bruno just drives it home," said Barker, 67, an Army veteran who served as a first lieutenant in the Vietnam War.

"Statistically the risk is not huge that anything would happen," he added. "But who wants to have that concern right by your house?"

Not the Barkers. They have joined half a dozen property owners as interveners on the side of the state of Oregon, which was sued Aug. 27 by a company hoping to build a 234-mile natural gas pipeline from Coos Bay through the upper Rogue River watershed to Malin.

In the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Eugene, Pacific Connector Gas Pipeline LP, a Salt Lake City firm that would operate the pipeline, accused the state of employing a "legal Catch-22" by requiring developers to obtain approval from the roughly 220 landowners whose property may be crossed by the pipeline before it will process the firm's removal-fill permit application for the project.

The complainants say the problem is that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the agency that regulates construction of natural gas pipeline projects, cannot grant the firm the power of eminent domain over resistant property owners until the state authorizes the permits.

The 19-page complaint also charges there was "pervasive opposition" among state officials to the project, which was first proposed in 2006.

The pipeline would link a proposed liquefied natural gas terminal at Coos Bay's Jordan Cove to the major natural gas transmission line at Malin near the California state line. At three feet in diameter, the underground pipeline would deliver as much as one billion cubic feet of natural gas per day, proponents say.

In addition to crossing a little more than 150 miles of private land, the pipeline would cross some 30 miles of national forest and 40 miles of Bureau of Land Management land.

The pipeline project is being proposed by Williams Pacific Connector Gas Operator, a Salt Lake City firm, along with Pacific Gas & Electric Corp. and Fort Chicago Energy Partners. The companies involved in the project say the pipeline would be safe, both for local residents and the environment.

Barker isn't convinced. Nor are the lion's share of other private property owners who have yet to give their consent, he says.

"This pipeline would be 1,440 psi (pounds per square inch) — the San Bruno pipe was 200 psi or so," he said.

"It would run the length of our property, about 200 feet from our house. The blast zone is supposed to be 1,600 feet. You would be incinerated if anything were to happen."

The top of the 3-foot diameter pipe would be about 3 feet underground and would cross under the river immediately upstream from the Barker home.

The permanent right-of-way for the pipeline would be 50 feet wide, although the initial construction right-of-way would be 95 feet, he noted.

"But the whole thing is about whether they have the right to file for a permit without our permission," he said.

Although Barker believes opponents will win the battle over the proposed pipeline, he figures it will drag on for years.

"For people who want to sell their property or do something on it, it puts them in this horrible limbo land," he said.

"But we plan on staying here for the duration," he said, adding, "This is our retirement home."

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or e-mail pfattig@mailtribune.com.

Shady Cove resident Bob Barker points toward the area where a proposed natural gas pipeline would cross under the Rogue River, next to Barker's riverfront home. Bob Pennell / Mail Tribune photo - Bob Pennell