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Jordan Cove's easement claim is misleading

On Saturday, June 22, Coos Bay newspaper The World published an exclusive announcement from Jordan Cove, the company that wants to build a 230-mile pipeline through southwest Oregon and a massive liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal in Coos Bay. The story led with the headline: “Jordan Cove claims 82% of impacted landowners support the Project.”

The rest of the story was essentially the latest advertisement in a massive and well-funded PR campaign. We urge citizens and journalists to question the company’s claim, which is misleading at best, and the strategic timing of this announcement, on the weekend before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) hearings on the Jordan Cove project.

Canadian parent company Pembina knows that eminent domain is a dealbreaker — that Oregonians across the political spectrum are opposed to taking land from private citizens, and that “hold-out” landowners are in the best position to stop this project. Pembina also understands that Oregonians don’t trust large corporations that try to tell us what’s good for us, especially a Canadian company that wants to use Oregon to transport Canadian fracked gas to Asian markets. Not surprisingly, the company is doing its best to spin the numbers in their favor and convince the public that they’re not trampling on private citizens to push their project through.

First of all, one must examine the company’s wording carefully. Eighty-two percent of easements is not the same thing as 82 percent of unique landowners. It may be the case that Pembina has secured over 80 percent of the privately-owned parcels on the pipeline route. However, some landowners — in particular, private timber companies — own several parcels.

In fact, over 90 landowners have not signed and recorded easements. This represents nearly 40 percent of the landowners on the right-of-way. If these 90-plus landowners refuse to sign voluntary easement agreements, the company will have to use eminent domain to secure them.

Secondly, just because a landowner has signed an easement agreement does not signal support. In fact, many landowners who have signed strongly oppose the project.

So if that’s the case, why have they signed? As usual, the truth is more nuanced than a sensational headline.

It’s important to remember that some of the impacted landowners have been dealing with the looming threat of the pipeline for nearly 15 years. Some of these landowners were retirement age or older when they first received notice that a pipeline company wanted to cross their property. Others were in poor health, recently widowed, and/or under financial strain.

Some signed easement agreements after months, if not years, of intense pressure. Others express feeling misled by company reps who told them Jordan Cove was “a done deal” and convinced them to sign.

One property owner in Coos County confirmed that their family doesn’t want the pipeline to be built, but sold an easement because they don’t believe the project will ever receive the necessary permits.

Another Coos County landowner, who preferred not to be named for fear of retaliation, reports feeling harassed by the company. “One land agent even threatened to ensure that an above-ground block valve would be placed in my hay field if I didn’t sell the easement before their deadline,” she says. “I still haven’t sold an easement and don’t plan on doing so.”

Here are a few other points that Jordan Cove failed to include in their announcement. If the company does not get the necessary permits from FERC and/or Oregon state agencies, they will likely sell the easements to another project. Landowners will have no say in what the new ownership does with the right-of-way.

How likely is Pembina to sell the project? One need look no further than the words of company CEO Mike Dilger, speaking to shareholders during a May 3 meeting: “We’re just not ready for 10 billion-dollar projects,” he said. “We’re a 35 billion dollar company. Ten billion is just too big for us.” Earlier in the year, Pembina announced it was searching for partners to buy out 40 to 60 percent of its stake in the project.

Jordan Cove is not an end unto itself. Once the right-of-way is secured, it may be used as a fossil fuel corridor to transport products other than natural gas. Here again, landowners would have no say.

Rural Oregonians have become pawns in a political game. Don’t be fooled by Pembina’s slick ads and empty promises. Many landowners along the pipeline route plan to oppose this project all the way to the Supreme Court. Oregonians will have to choose which to support: a foreign company’s profits or the rights of their fellow citizens.

Stacey McLaughlin is an affected landowner in Douglas County. The pipeline proposal would run a mile over the McLaughlin family ranch. Ron Schaaf is an affected timber landowner in Klamath County.