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Biologist resigns over LNG reporting failure

PORTLAND (AP) — A biologist who worked for a consultant on the liquefied natural gas plant planned for Coos Bay has told federal regulators that engineers ignored and possibly hid contaminated soils issues at the site.

The allegations came in comments filed on the Jordan Cove project's environmental analysis, now in draft form, The Oregonian reported Friday.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has concluded that there will be limited environmental impacts from the $7 billion gas-exporting complex, and they can be mitigated. The proposal has drawn protests across Southern Oregon, where a pipeline would carry the natural gas from Klamath County to the port in Coos Bay. The pipeline route includes a long stretch through Jackson County, where it would cross the Rogue River in the vicinity of Shady Cove.

The plant project would be on the site of a former Weyerhaeuser paper mill. It would chill and condense natural gas piped from the interior of North America for shipment on vessels bound for Asia.

Plans call for dredging about 2.3 million cubic yards for a shipping berth and using the spoils for massive earthen berms to elevate the liquefaction plant and its accompanying power plant out of the tsunami inundation zone.

The biologist, Barbara Gimlin, said in her comments the contamination issues weren't disclosed in the analysis, nor reported to the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality until she called attention to them.

She says she supports the project but resigned in April from the consultant engineering company, SHN Engineers & Geologists, as a matter of professional integrity. 

"I was stunned, just flabbergasted to find out that the DEQ hadn't been contacted at all," she told the paper. "It was inexcusable."

Gimlin said unidentified contaminated soils and sediment surfaced during excavations in an area that she had repeatedly been told was "clean fill" from previous channel dredging by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

She said she learned that archaeologists working on the site avoided work in one area after discovering soil they deemed contaminated, and she met resistance in her company when she asked whether environmental regulators had been informed.

Her boss at the company, Steve Donovan, said contamination issues are well understood and a plan is in place to deal with them.

"It's not a big deal," he said.

Donovan acknowledged the soils were excavated and moved without notifying the Department of Environmental Quality.

"I'm not arguing with DEQ that we should have notified them, and in the future we will notify them more promptly," he said.

A hydrologist for the state agency, Bill Mason, said it sent Jordan Cove a warning letter after discovering that the contaminated soil had been pushed into a berm, covered and reseeded.

Mason said he believes conditions at the site have been fairly well characterized in successive rounds of soil testing, and there will be a rigorously monitored work plan when and if site excavation gets underway.