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Commissioners send letter to clamp pipeline plans

Citing impacts to water, soil and people, Jackson County commissioners are asking the state to block a proposed natural gas pipeline through Southern Oregon.

The Oregon Department of State Lands is taking comments until Feb. 3 as it considers whether to grant a key permit for the controversial 229-mile pipeline that would stretch through Klamath, Jackson, Douglas and Coos counties to a proposed export terminal north of Coos Bay.

Jackson County commissioners are sending a letter that spells out a host of concerns.

“It’s a significant impact to Jackson County, the citizens and our lands,” said Jackson County Commissioner Colleen Roberts.

Pembina Pipeline Corporation, a Canadian company, wants to use the pipeline and port to export North American natural gas to Asian markets.

But longstanding American energy policy is to reduce reliance on foreign energy supplies and promote conservation, the letter says.

“The proposed project calls for the export of our energy resources, which seems to be contrary to both of those objectives,” the letter says.

While the Canadian company will profit, it’s unclear how the public benefits, the letter says.

“All indications are that the benefits to Jackson County will be extremely minimal, while the costs to our wetlands and water bodies is high,” the letter says.

According to Pembina, the project would create 1,400 jobs during the pipeline’s construction and 1,000 jobs while the export terminal is being built. More than 200 people would have permanent jobs once construction is done, mainly at the export facility, it says.

The project would generate $60 million annually in tax revenue for the Southern Oregon counties, according to Pembina.

In their letter, Jackson County officials said there is no guarantee that Pembina would cover the costs of restoration if the pipeline is damaged or fails.

They point to the example of PG&E. The power utility announced it will go through Chapter 11 bankruptcy after its equipment was implicated in 2017 and 2018 wildfires that burned 24,600 structures and killed more than 100 people in California.

The letter says Pembina wants to use water from reservoirs, a lake and an irrigation canal in Jackson County to fill the pipeline and test its strength.

“These water sources are important for irrigation, fire suppression and livestock watering,” the letter says. “Considering the drought conditions of the last several years, and extreme fire conflagrations in Oregon and this region of the country, removing water from these sources is detrimental to our ranching community and a life-safety issue when reducing water supply available for wildland fire suppression.”

Removing water could raise the temperature of the water bodies, harming fish and leading to algae blooms, the letter warns.

To avoid pipeline damage, the pipeline corridor would have to be kept clear of trees, deep-rooted vegetation and buildings.

That need to keep a permanently cleared corridor is in direct conflict with a Jackson County law that riparian areas must be replanted after they are disturbed, the letter says.

In addition, county officials are concerned about plans to burn woody debris from the clearing.

The pipeline would cross 87 waterways and wetlands in the county, including the Rogue River.

Excavated soil would be piled a minimum of 10 feet away from waterways, but the letter called that buffer “woefully inadequate” to stop the soil from washing back into wetlands, streams and the river — especially considering how much dirt and rock must be dug up to make room for the 3-foot-diameter pipeline.

The pipeline would cross beneath the Rogue River two miles north of Shady Cove.

County officials say in the letter the crossing is too close to homeowners, who would be subjected to construction and drilling noise and other impacts. They also worry about leakage of drilling fluid into the river.

The letter says the plan often calls on contractors to use “best practices” during construction, but doesn’t spell out what those practices will be to prevent erosion and other negative impacts.

“This most certainly will lead to errors in judgment motivated by least-expensive options,” the letter says.

The application says the 229-mile pipeline would cross 94.3 miles of soils at high or severe risk of erosion, 16.2 miles of soil that is highly susceptible to wind erosion, and 72 miles of soil classified as prime farmland or farmland of statewide importance.

County officials want Pembina to say exactly how many miles of those sensitive soils are in Jackson County.

The letter also says the project could increase mercury in fish, contaminate wells and other water sources, and spread invasive species and forest pathogens.

“All of those things are concerns and potentially impact our county,” said Commissioner Rick Dyer.

County commissioners have long been opposed to the project because of the possibility that eminent domain could be used against property owners unwilling to have the pipeline cross their land.

For the comment letter to the Oregon Department of State Lands, they had to focus on impacts to land and water.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is reviewing the project at the national level.

FERC denied a previous iteration of the project in 2016, saying potential harms outweighed potential benefits.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.

Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneArial view of where the gas pipeline would cross Highway 140 between White City and Mt. McLoughlin.