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Public sounds off on gas pipeline

Residents opposed to a natural gas pipeline through southwest Oregon begged state and federal officials to deny permits for the project on the grounds it would harm waterways, hurt the public interest, increase pollution and contribute to global warming.

More than 350 people packed a standing-room-only meeting at North Medford High School Thursday night in which Oregon Department of Environmental Quality and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers representatives fielded questions and comments.

A wide array of state and federal regulatory agencies need to sign off before construction can begin on the 232-mile Pacific Connector Gas Pipeline and the Jordan Cove export terminal in Coos Bay. The pipeline would carry methane gas to Coos Bay, where it would be turned into a liquid natural gas state and exported, largely to Asian markets.

Trees would be cleared for the route and would not be allowed to regrow because of the damage roots could cause to the 3-foot diameter pipeline. The route would cross approximately 400 waterways, with the pipeline passing through tunnels drilled beneath the Rogue River near Shady Cove, as well as under the Klamath and Coos rivers.

Opponents asked DEQ representatives how the agency could give the nod to a project that could negatively impact streams that already have too much sediment or high temperatures harmful to fish.

"The short answer is, we don't," said Chris Stine, a representative for DEQ, adding the agency's policy is not to allow further degradation of already-impaired streams.

However, the project could be approved if effective mitigation measures could be put in place, he said.

Many residents voiced concerns plans to tunnel under the Rogue could go awry, with the tunneling project failing, or spewing materials into the river.

DEQ and Army Corps of Engineers representatives said they feel more information is needed about that plan.

"Personally, I think they need to come up with further contingency plans," said Tyler Krug, a Corps representative.

Many residents pointed to oil spills, natural gas pipeline explosions and other disasters that have occurred across the nation. On Saturday, a 1-foot diameter oil pipeline in Montana burst, spilling an estimated 50,000 gallons of oil into the Yellowstone River and prompting warnings in nearby cities that residents should not drink or cook with tap water.

Stine said comments from the public on those issues represent "good, relevant information," and he urged people to especially provide input regarding their local knowledge of specific waterways.

Residents complained that agencies examining the project are not giving enough credence to concerns about global warming, which would reduce snowpack in Southern Oregon, warm streams and have other impacts.

"The U.S. is still in its infancy on addressing global warming," said DEQ representative Mary Camarata said, adding the issue will be addressed to the extent existing laws allow.

At one point in the evening, the meeting was in danger of being shut down after Medford resident Bob Jackson Miner — who has a history of berating public officials at meetings — would not give up the microphone and began yelling at the DEQ and Army Corps of Engineers representatives.

"I realize there are a lot of strong feelings about this," Stine said.

Eventually, the meeting returned to order, and later Butte Falls area resident and pipeline opponent Chris Mathas thanked the representatives for listening.

"I'm proud to live in a nation where we can still ask questions of authority," Mathas said.

DEQ has extended the public comment period until March 13 for input on a 401 water quality certification that would be required for the project to move forward.

Mail comments to Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, Attn: Chris Stine, 165 E. Seventh Ave. Suite 100, Eugene, OR 97401, fax comments to 541-686-7551 or email comments to 401publiccomments@deq.state.or.us. Comments can also be submitted online at www.oregon.gov/deq/WR/Pages/jordancoveComments.aspx.

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

Opponents of a proposed natural gas pipeline through southwest Oregon gather Thursday evening before a public meeting at North Medford High School. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch