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Local landowners see no public good in proposed pipeline

Perched on a cliff near Shady Cove, Toni Woolsey's house overlooks the Rogue River and is surrounded by forested mountains.

A proposed 232-mile natural gas pipeline would require the logging of trees and clearing of brush in a corridor across her land and through the property of many of her neighbors. If the pipeline is approved, neighbors who don't accept offers for use of their land could face eminent domain — the seizure of land for the public good.

Woolsey said she sees no public benefit in Canadian-headquartered Veresen's plans to transport North American natural gas through the pipeline to an export terminal in Coos Bay for shipment to Asia.

"It won't do anything good for us as a nation," she said. "Foreign companies want to take resources and send them to foreign lands — and take our land. It's un-American and unconstitutional to do this."

Woolsey said she's been offered $4,000 plus a $1,000 signing bonus to have the pipeline running underground across her property.

"No amount of money would make me want it," she said.

Landowners who want more for the use of their property would have to hire attorneys to negotiate on their behalf, spending thousands of dollars in the process, said concerned Jackson County property owners.

"That's why most landowners end up settling. Landowners can't afford the fight," Woolsey said.

Running from Malin near the Oregon and California border up to Coos Bay, the pipeline would cross the land of 304 property owners, said Michael Hinrichs, spokesman for the proposed Pacific Connector Pipeline project and Jordan Cove export facility in Coos Bay.

Of those, 38 landowners have signed agreements for use of their land, he said.

"They thought our offers were fair," Hinrichs said.

The pipeline passes through public land as well, including 74.5 miles of U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management land.

Hinrichs said some landowners have been unwilling to communicate on the issue.

"We can only come up with reasonable offers if we talk to landowners," Hinrichs said. "Many folks won't allow us on their land or talk to us."

Hinrichs said offers made so far to landowners have been initial offers, which haven't yet factored in potential damages to the value of land. Timberland owners, for example, would be compensated for the loss of trees.

Property owner Nick Garcia said he would be hard hit by having the pipeline cross his land, which fronts the Rogue River near Shady Cove. His land would be used as the site for drilling under the Rogue River to run the pipeline deep underneath the riverbed.

Garcia had planned to build a house on his land. Buildings, trees and plants with deep roots would not be allowed in a 30-foot swath over the pipeline, and the operators would maintain a total 50-foot easement.

"It renders my property worthless," said Garcia, who was offered $12,000 plus a $1,000 signing bonus for the use of his land. "They're lowballing it."

Like other neighbors opposed to the pipeline, Garcia believes it poses no benefit to American citizens.

Hinrichs said the pipeline could not only supply export markets, but provide natural gas to Southern Oregon. The 36-inch pipeline is so large that 10 percent of its capacity would more than meet all needs for Southern Oregon, he said.

"The vast majority would be exported," Hinrichs said.

Building the pipeline along with its compressor and metering stations would cost approximately $1.74 billion, according to a draft Environmental Impact Statement released by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which is analyzing the pipeline and export facility proposal.

The total pipeline construction payroll would be $240 million, according to the draft EIS.

American-based Williams Companies Inc. would be tasked with building the pipeline, which has won the support of many workers in pipeline, construction, electrical, welding and related fields.

Neighbors contend that once construction is complete, there would be only a handful of permanent jobs in Jackson County, but they will have to live with the impacts for decades.

Chris Mathas, who lives near Butte Falls, said he owns two properties and lives in a house on one. He had planned to construct a house on the other, but the pipeline is planned through that property.

"I'm a builder. Selling a house would be my retirement," Mathas said.

He fears people won't choose his land for a home because of the proximity to the pipeline, which would be 200 feet away from the proposed house site. He said he was offered $750 for the use of a pipeline corridor across his land — less than 5 percent of the assessed value of the property.

While the pipeline construction would create jobs, Mathas said studies show 1.2 million manufacturing jobs in the United States could be lost if factories face higher energy prices from the export of North American energy resources.

"It's not good for America and it's not good locally," he said.

Bob Barker, who lives within sight of the Rogue River near Shady Cove, said property owners are spending years in limbo, unsure of what they can do with their property and unable to sell.

"We've had situations where people try to sell land and the buyers back out when they find out a pipeline is going through," said Barker.

Hinrichs said numerous studies have shown having a pipeline buried across someone's property does not devalue it.

Barker said the potential use of eminent domain is especially troubling.

"When a landowner is affected by eminent domain, the public thinks it's just a case of not-in-my-backyard," Barker said.

But concerned landowners believe the project is not in the interests of the American public, he said.

Hinrichs said eminent domain would be used only as a last resort. A judge or three-person commission would decide the fair value of the land and the property owner would be paid.

"We don't pursue eminent domain unless we absolutely have to because we can't come to terms," he said. "Eminent domain is not exercised as much as people think. We want to talk to landowners and find out their concerns."

Neighbors also fear a worst-case scenario in which the pipeline leaks, causes a fire or explodes, potentially killing people. They point out the pipeline route passes through miles of forests, which are at high risk of wildfire, as well as near homes.

"There's always some risk of accidents. It's not likely, but it can happen and it does happen," Barker said.

He said over the years people could forget where the pipeline is, dig with heavy equipment and puncture the pipeline. Add in an ignition source, and a devastating explosion could result, he said.

Hinrichs said the pipeline route would be included in a national program that keeps track of buried natural gas lines, power lines, water mains and other infrastructure so people don't unwittingly dig into them.

"We have an extensive pipeline safety program with sensors that monitor the pressure of the pipeline 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. They can detect pinhole-leak drops in pressure," Hinrichs said.

The pipeline would be routinely inspected and X-rayed with devices that monitor the pipeline and surrounding ground. Either a helicopter or plane would fly over the pipeline corridor weekly or monthly to check for problems, such as heavy equipment sitting on the pipeline path or brown vegetation that could indicate a leak, Hinrichs said.

If a leak, fire or explosion did occur, emergency crews would respond as soon as possible, Hinrichs said.

Marcie Laudani, who lives outside Shady Cove on a forested mountain slope frequented by deer and their fawns, said she doesn't want a clearcut swath running down the mountain and across her property. Oaks and pines would be logged to create the corridor, and construction crews would use her property for temporary work areas, expanding beyond the impact of the corridor itself.

Laudani said the mountain already is prone to erosion and the trees help keep soil in place. With the pipeline running outside her bedroom window, she fears a catastrophic explosion.

Ultimately, Laudani said, the quiet, serene life rural residents enjoy would be permanently changed.

 "There is no compensation for your quality of life," she said.

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

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A Federal Energy Regulatory Commission public hearing on the proposed pipeline held Dec. 11 drew more than 300 people to Central Medford High School. Many were landowners opposed to the pipeline. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch
Toni Woolsey opposes the Pacific Connector pipeline, which would cross under her property overlooking the Rogue River near Shady Cove. 'Foreign companies want to take resources and send them to foreign lands — and take our land. It's un-American and unconstitutional to do this,' she says. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch