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Merkley stands up for landowners on Jordan Cove

As landowners threatened by the Pacific Connector gas pipeline, we are elated at Sen. Jeff Merkley’s announcement that he will not support a project dependent on seizing private properties through eminent domain for a foreign corporations' profit. Hundreds of Oregon families have been held hostage far too long on behalf of this speculative venture, already twice denied by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Senator Merkley’s shift comes as welcome news.

We have devoted our lives to hard work and sacrifice to build our homes, nurture the land and live out our version of the American dream in rural Oregon only to find ourselves captive to federal, state and local permitting processes. In trying to protect ourselves, we’ve discovered that landowner rights under the Constitution are ignored by the very elected officials who have sworn to uphold them. The Fifth Amendment is clear that private property can be taken only for public use, and yet the Pacific Connector gas pipeline and the Jordan Cove LNG export projects are owned by Pembina Pipeline, a private Canadian corporation based in Calgary. This foreign company is poised to use eminent domain to take the private properties of American citizens so it can export Canadian gas to Asia if the pipeline is approved. There is something very wrong with this picture.

It is unconscionable that everything we have worked for in our lives can be glibly tossed aside to support Pembina’s exaggerated gains by elected officials such as Knute Buehler, a GOP candidate for governor and county commissioners Tim Freeman, Derrick DeGroot and John Sweet, all Republicans, who profess their support of personal property rights and opposition to eminent domain. Jackson County’s commissioners, also Republicans, demonstrated integrity and leadership by unequivocally opposing this project as required by their county code. Douglas County commissioners are ignoring their code, which states, “the power of eminent domain should be used to acquire property only for public purposes.” Unfortunately, for Coos, Douglas and Klamath commissioners, the decades of taxes and hard work we have contributed to our communities is less important than a Canadian company’s move to secure a bigger bottom line for their shareholders.

Unless you have lived through this nightmare as we have, you cannot imagine the emotional roller coaster and stress our families have endured for more than ten years. Our livelihoods and lifestyles have been nothing more than political fodder, with pipeline support coming from those who stand to profit at our expense with little thought of the harm to private landowners.

Commissioners Tim Freeman and Derrick DeGroot are both outspoken personal property rights advocates. Freeman has publicly expressed his opposition to eminent domain being used for the Pacific Connector pipeline. Now both want to portray Merkley’s congruency around the use of eminent domain and his inability to support it as an urban/rural divide between rural Oregon and Portland. In fact, none of the urban centers in either Freeman or DeGroot’s communities are affected by the pipeline; only outlying rural residents will suffer the consequences.

This is not a battleground between Portland and rural Southern Oregon, it is about local property owners on the front lines against a foreign corporation that wants to take our property. Frankly, we are sick and tired of the pie-in-the-sky speculation by these for-profit corporations at our expense. Our lands and our lives have been under siege long enough. We can’t build, we can’t plan and we can’t sell if we choose to with the threat of this ticking time bomb snaking across our ridges, pastures, creeks and rivers. All we can say is hooray for Senator Merkley for having the mettle to change course. We hope more elected officials will find the courage to stand behind their words and join him.

These projects are dependent on the taking of private property. Very simply, you cannot be against eminent domain and for Jordan Cove or the Pacific Connector and have an ounce of integrity.

Taking our land to create financial benefits for a foreign corporation under the guise of job creation has divided Oregon and is not the way forward for economic growth and security for our communities. We support jobs and we support the workers, many of whom who are in conflict with union leadership around a project that is dependent on eminent domain and threatens the future for their children. Statistics are clear: The fossil fuel industry cannot keep pace with the job growth in both solar and wind employment sectors. Oregonians should not be asked to sacrifice each other by our elected officials so a private Canadian corporation can profit.

Oregon leaders who profess to oppose eminent domain must recognize this project cannot happen without it and follow Senator Merkley’s lead and come down on the right side of this issue. Landowners are deeply grateful that Merkley has heard our voices.

— Stacey McLaughlin lives in Douglas County. Landowners also signing this opinion are Ron Schaaf and Deb Evans, Klamath County; Bob Barker, Jackson County; and Clarence Adams, Francis Eatherington, John Clarke and Bill and Sharon Gow, all of Douglas County.