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FERC bypasses Jackson County

The Jackson County Board of Commissioners and opponents of a proposed natural gas pipeline through southwestern Oregon are asking the federal agency overseeing the project to schedule a public meeting here in the county.

Commissioners and opponents also want a longer public comment period than the 30 days recently announced by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The comment period ends on July 10.

FERC scheduled public meetings in Coos, Douglas and Klamath counties, but not in Jackson County.

"FERC intentionally did not schedule a meeting for Jackson County, which historically has had the highest public participation in all four counties," said Hannah Sohl, director of Rogue Climate and an opponent of the project. "It's absurd that they didn't schedule a meeting in Medford and are only giving 30 days for the comment period."

Sohl said people need at least 90 days to comment, especially since there are thousands of pages of newly released reports about the project to review.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., is also looking into the public comment issue.

"Sen. Wyden is extremely concerned about public engagement in this process, including extending the public comment period, and is working on ways to address this," spokesman Hank Stern said in a statement to the Mail Tribune.

Sohl is opposed to FERC's plans to have people attending the public meetings deliver their comments on a one-on-one basis with a court reporter, rather than speaking in front of the whole crowd.

"People won't hear anybody else's comments," she said. "FERC is trying to stifle public participation and is trying to make it harder for the communities that are the most impacted to participate."

FERC said in a document the one-on-one format is designed to receive the maximum amount of verbal comments in a convenient way. People will be issued numbers as they arrive and time limits for each person may be imposed. FERC staff will not give a formal presentation at the start of each meeting, but they will be available to answer questions.

FERC said "disruptive video and photographic equipment" and "oversized visual aids" cannot be used and conversations must be kept to a reasonable volume.

"Oversized visual aids" appears to be a reference to posters, charts or other large items.

"FERC reserves the right to end the session if disruptions interfere with the opportunity for individuals to provide verbal comments or if there is a safety or security risk," FERC said in the document.

FERC denied the project in 2016, saying there was little evidence to support a need for the pipeline and any public benefits were outweighed by negative impacts to landowners along its route.

Jordan Cove LNG, the company behind the project, is trying again to win approval from FERC. Jordan Cove LNG is part of a larger international energy company.

A March informational meeting in Medford held by Jordan Cove LNG drew hundreds of poster-waving protesters. Supporters included about 30 laborers, many of them union members, who said the project would bring jobs to the area.

The 232-mile, 3-foot diameter Pacific Connector pipeline would cross southwestern Oregon carrying natural gas to a proposed processing plant north of Coos Bay for export overseas — impacting hundreds of landowners along the route.

Jordan Cove LNG Chief Executive Officer Betsy Spomer said at the March meeting the company wants to win over landowners and get voluntary agreements for use of their land — rather than use eminent domain.

During a Thursday meeting of Jackson County commissioners with county staff, commissioners agreed to send a letter asking FERC to hold a public input meeting in Jackson County. Commissioners also want an extension of the 30-day comment period.

Additionally, the commissioners want to meet openly with project representatives to ask questions about the project.

Jackson County Administrator Danny Jordan said representatives of the company wanted to meet in a private, closed-door meeting with commissioners of Jackson County and other impacted counties. The representatives also wanted Jackson County commissioners to travel to a neighboring county for the meeting.

Jordan said county officials refused the request.

He said commissioners are willing to meet with company representatives if the meeting is open to the public and held in Jackson County. Members of the public would not provide input during that meeting, but could listen.

"They keep playing games with us about not wanting to do a public meeting," Jordan said.

FERC has planned three meetings in other counties for people to provide input about what issues should be examined in an environmental impact statement about the project.

The first is from 4 to 7 p.m. Tuesday, June 27, in the library and commons areas of Sunset Middle School, 245 S. Cammann St., Coos Bay.

The second is from 4 to 7 p.m. Wednesday, June 28, in rooms 11 and 12 of Jackson Hall at Umpqua Community College, 1140 Umpqua College Road, Roseburg.

The last is from 4 to 7 p.m. Thursday, June 29, in the Mount Bailey and Mount Thielsen rooms of the College Union Building at the Oregon Institute of Technology, 3201 Campus Drive, Klamath Falls.

FERC's Division of Media Relations said the agency is providing enough opportunities for public comment. People can submit comments via the Internet, mail comments or attend the public comment sessions in person in Coos, Douglas and Klamath counties.

FERC is already familiar with the region affected by the project and the general concerns of landowners because of comments collected during earlier efforts to win approval for the project, the media relations division said.

"As a federal agency with finite resources, FERC must take these factors into consideration when making decisions to allocate staff resources," the division said in a statement. "With all of this in mind, and with other options provided to the public to submit comments, staff determined that the three proposed sessions are sufficient."

Although July 10 is the deadline for comment, FERC will continue to review comments after that date until the company proposing the pipeline and export facility files its formal application, the media relations division said.

Meanwhile, Jackson County opponents of the project are making plans to meet, share information and strategize about comments they want to make at the meetings in other counties. They are also setting up carpool arrangements.

The opponents plan to meet from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Monday, June 19, at the Talent Community Center, 104 E. Main St., Talent.

They are also planning a Josephine County information and strategy session from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday, June 22, at The Haul brewpub, 121 S.W. H St., Grants Pass.

Comments can be submitted electronically by visiting ferc.gov, going to the Documents and Filings area and going to the eComment or eFiling feature. For help using the features, call 202-502-8258 or email ferconlinesupport@ferc.gov. The docket number for the pipeline and export facility project is PF17-4-000.

Comments that include the docket number can be mailed to Kimberly D. Bose, Secretary, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, 888 First St. N.E., Room 1A, Washington, D.C. 20426.

Reach staff reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/VickieAldous.

A March informational meeting in Medford held by Jordan Cove LNG drew hundreds of poster-waving protesters. [Mail Tribune / File photo