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Judge: Landowners in pipeline path should be public info

A federal judge has sided with an Ashland couple and eight other Oregonians whose properties are in the path of a controversial proposed pipeline project, determining that names and addresses of property owners contacted by Pacific Gas Connector Pipeline should be made public.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark D. Clarke decided Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Medford that the Federal Energy Regulatory Committee has a “substantial public interest” to reveal the names of property owners contacted by the company prior to its October 2017 FERC application for a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity — a certificate that allows for eminent domain if the project is approved.

“FERC is sending important notices about the pipeline project to only those on a list created by (Pacific Gas Connector Pipeline), a private entity with direct financial interest in the pipeline project,” Clarke wrote. “FERC is constitutionally required to ensure that notice is sent to all those that may be deprived of their property rights should the pipeline project be completed.”

Another judge will issue a ruling based on Clarke’s findings and recommendation, along with any objections filed in the next two weeks.

Deb Evans and Ron Schaaf of Ashland filed the Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against FERC last May with other affected property owners residing in Roseburg, Myrtle Creek, Camas Valley and Winston. They argued they’re concerned about the accuracy of Pacific Connector’s list, and sought to cross check the list with property records.

Evans, Schaaf and others opposed to the proposed pipeline intend to cross check the mailing list generated by Pacific Connector — a private company part of the Jordan Cove Energy Project — to determine whether every potentially affected landowner is actually on the lists submitted to FERC in the application.

FERC argued that the names and addresses were confidential, and that because Pacific Connector prepared the list, releasing the list of contacts would reveal no information about the federal agency’s conduct or operations. Clarke disagreed.

Clarke stated that comparing the lists would allow Evans, Schaaf and others named as petitioners in the lawsuit to “shed light on whether FERC’s procedure of allowing a private entity to create the landowner lists actually works to ensure that notice of the pipeline project was sent to all the right people.”

Clarke determined the “substantial public interest outweighs the privacy interest in this case.”

“Did FERC take any measures to double check the lists? Did FERC oversee (Pacific Connector’s) list-making process? Were the lists ever updated when the proposed route of the pipeline changed?” Clarke asked. “FERC has not provided answers to these questions.”

Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @MTCrimeBeat.