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LNG protesters take to the water (and the hills)

Were it not for the bright red signs toted by their occupants, the rafts that left the boat ramp at Rogue Elk Park Saturday morning easily could have been mistaken for an ordinary trip down the river.

Instead, the motley mix of about a dozen Southern Oregon residents and visiting activists took to the water to kick off the second leg of a 232-mile trek by protesters along the length of the proposed Pacific Connector Gas Pipeline. 

If approved, the pipeline will carry liquefied natural gas from the Rocky Mountain region to an export terminal on Jordan Cove in Coos Bay. The Pacific Connector would start in Malin in Klamath County and cross under the Rogue River near Shady Cove.

Local activist and Talent resident Allen Hallmark, preparing to board a sign-laden raft for the trip downriver to Shady Cove, said he rejected notions that the pipeline and terminal construction would create jobs.

"This is about corporate expansion," said Hallmark, 72, pointing out that the project originally was designed for importing natural gas for domestic markets but now aims to export the gas overseas.

Representatives for Veresen Inc., the Canadian company that owns the Jordan Cove Energy Project, have defended the pipeline's presence in Southern Oregon, saying it would supply gas to local customers as well as the international market.

Those reassurances are small comfort to landowners and outdoors enthusiasts who say their quality of life will be impacted when the 36-inch pipeline cuts through private and public lands. The pipeline's plans call for the 30 feet on either side of the pipeline to be stripped of vegetation, and Veresen has said it plans to maintain a permanent 50-foot easement.

Emmalyn Garrett, a Portland resident who grew up in Douglas County, said about a dozen people were expected to hike the pipeline route to Coos Bay, after an earlier contingent made the trek from Klamath Falls to Shady Cove beginning Aug. 23. Among them was Meg Wade, a 32-year-old Portland native who joined the hikers near Ashland after trekking more than 1,000 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail from Southern California.

Wade, who goes by the nickname "Properly Chill" on the trail, said the safety and environmental risks of a pipeline rupture weren't far from her mind, especially during wildfire season. "I think other thru-hikers including myself have concerns about that," she said. 

Veresen representatives have said that a plane or helicopter would fly the length of the pipeline at least monthly to check for leaks or damage, and that emergency crews would be available to immediately respond to fire or leak scenarios.

Garrett, 30, said the gas pipeline has become a growing concern for thru-hikers as the plans for the proposed export facility have moved forward. "It's been on the radar for about 10 years, since it was an import terminal," Garrett said. "One of the amazing things about this project is the diversity of opposition to the pipeline."

Organizing that local opposition Saturday was 23-year-old Alexander Harris, an Ashland native. "I used to float the river all the time," said Harris, an aspiring environmental lawyer who graduated from the University of Oregon about a year ago.

Harris said he'd spent about six months organizing the "Hike the Pipe" project, which is backed by Rogue Climate, an Ashland-based nonprofit. While many of the dozens of hikers participating were walking only small portions of the route, both Harris and Garrett plan to hike its full length to Coos Bay, Garrett said. Organizers expect the group will reach Coos Bay on Sept. 26.

The Oregonian reported that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission expects to issue its final environmental impact statement for Jordan Cove at the end of September, with approval to follow early this winter. The total cost of the pipeline's construction has been estimated at $1.74 billion.

Reach reporter Thomas Moriarty at 541-776-4471, or by email at tmoriarty@mailtribune.com. Follow him at @ThomasDMoriarty.

Protesters drifted the Rogue River from Rogue Elk Park to Shady Cove. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell
Protesters of the Pacific Connector Gas Pipeline launch rafts into the Rogue River Saturday morning. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell