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Most residents speak against gas pipeline

The overwhelming majority of residents at a public hearing on a proposed natural gas pipeline through Southern Oregon spoke against it, but plumbers, electricians and construction workers said the project would bring needed jobs.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission held the hearing Thursday evening at Central Medford High School.

More than 100 people protested against the proposed pipeline and a proposed natural gas export terminal in Coos Bay before the start of the meeting. The crowd overflowed a room meant for 300, with people sitting on the floor, standing at the back and sides and listening from a hallway at the school.

The Pacific Connector Gas Pipeline Project would transport gas 230 miles through a 3-foot-diameter pipe, crossing through Southern Oregon to Coos Bay on the coast. The gas would be turned into a liquid form and exported to Pacific Rim countries.

Again and again, residents said exporting natural gas would drive up energy prices in this country, weaken America's quest for energy independence and increase global warming. They pointed to a study that found 1.2 million manufacturing jobs in the United States are lost due to the export of natural gas that fuels foreign factories.

Hannah Sohl, representing the Rogue Climate group, said promoting renewable energy production and energy efficiency projects would create 17 times more jobs than comparable investments in fossil fuel projects.

Local businessman Jim Britton said Oregon would take on all the risks, including environmental degradation and potential gas leaks, fires and explosions, while a Canadian natural gas company would reap all the profits.

The pipeline would cross hundreds of streams and rivers, as well as U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and private land. Property owners who did not want to accept a payment for the pipe to cross their land could be faced with eminent domain proceedings, landowners said.

"Ninety percent of landowners believe this is a bad deal," said property owner Clarence Adams.

He said he does not believe an analysis that found the pipeline would not negatively affect property values. Adams said sales have already fallen through just from the threat of a pipeline being built through the area.

Residents opposed to the pipeline said it would create only a handful of permanent jobs after the initial construction was finished.

Al Shropshire, representing a plumbers and steamfitters union with 4,300 members, said workers in those trades almost always work on temporary construction jobs.

"Every one of our members want this project, and we want these jobs, but we wouldn't trade these jobs for the environment," Shropshire said, adding he believes the work will be done safely and professionally. "I believe we can have both."

John Williams, an environmental researcher representing a union of heavy equipment operators, said boosting use of natural gas helps combat global warming.

"It will allow Asian power plants to leave coal in the ground," Williams said.

John Hutter, a kayaker, fisherman and electrican, said he has worked on two pipelines already. Electricians would make the safety of the pipeline their top priority, he said.

"We're going to treat this property like it's our own backyard," he said, noting local electricians have pride in the area.

But arborist Stefan Gala said the pipeline project would increase sediment in waterways, harm fish and lead to 90-foot-wide clearcuts along the path of the pipeline. He said 42 miles of the pipeline's 230-mile length passes through old-growth forests.

Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-776-4486 or valdous@mailtribune.com. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/VickieAldous.

Protesters gather Thursday night outside Central High School in Medford before a public comment hearing on the Jordan Cove gas export terminal and Pacific Connector pipeline. MAIL TRIBUNE / JAMIE LUSCH.
Mary Ann Shank, representing Southern Oregon Climate Action Now, gives a statement Thursday during the public comment hearing. MAIL TRIBUNE / JAMIE LUSCH.