Walking into Dean Bright’s house is like walking into an Oregon Trail trapping museum.
“I’ve always been fascinated with nature and animals,” he says, pointing to a skeleton of bighorn sheep his wife tagged near the Snake River in 2011. He also has a stuffed mountain lion and about 100 animal traps in the room.
On more than 300 acres in Myrtle Creek, Bright is a feeder cattle rancher with an affinity for taxidermy.
“When I bought the property in ‘92, I had just gotten out of the Air Force and I wanted to open a taxidermy shop,” he said with his rat terrier-fox terrier mix named Maddie at his ankles. “This was a hay barn. There were no walls, no floor, just a tin roof on these poles, and I thought, well, that’s the perfect building to enclose and make a taxidermy shop.”
He built a couple of bedrooms onto the back instead of continuing to live in a trailer, and he said, “Well, we’ll kind of live there until I build a house. But I liked it right here, so I just turned this into the house.”
It’s clean and tidy, and the conversation quickly turns to Bright’s snakes. Maddie is short for Medusa — the venomous snake-haired creature of Greek mythology. In his custom-made locking terrariums, Bright has 12 rattlesnakes from all over the country. He also has a boa constrictor named George (of the jungle) he bought so his grandkids could actually handle one of his snakes.
Bright is part of the 75% of landowners along the path of the Pacific Connector Pipeline who have signed agreements allowing the pipeline to be built on their properties. The highly contested Jordan Cove Energy Project would snake 229 miles through Southern Oregon to an export terminal in Coos Bay, where natural gas originating in Canada would be shipped to East Asian markets.
On Friday, the public comment period for the project’s draft environmental impact statement concluded. In the statement, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission included more than 130 conditions the company needed to address to minimize environmental impacts.
Jordan Cove has multiple outstanding state and local permits, but federal regulators would have the final say on the project. The number of agreements signed with landowners will play a significant role in FERC’s decision, according to Jordan Cove spokesman Paul Vogel.
Bright’s decision to sign an agreement is mostly financial, he said. He would not disclose how much money he has received, but he said it has helped with a lot of projects on his property such as extensive invasive species removal.
“It’s pretty nice to be able to take my wife on a cruise once in a while,” he said.
The agreement includes a 50-foot-wide right-of-way for the 36-inch diameter pipeline. It would be about 1000 feet from his house. Coming from his neighbor’s property on one side, the pipeline would come over a hill, cut across his horse pens — where he has nine horses — cross a creek and go over a hill onto another neighbor’s property on the other side.
“They’ve been very cooperative as far as asking what I need,” Bright said of Jordan Cove employees, with whom he has had regular communication since the project’s parent company, Calgary-based Pembina Pipeline Corp., took over the project from its previous owner in 2017. Public hearings for the project were first held in 2005. In 2016, FERC denied the project saying there was little need for it, but Jordan Cove resubmitted its application a year later.
Jordan Cove plans to build temporary horse pens in a different part of Bright’s property during construction through the existing pens. The company would then rebuild them in the original spot after construction is completed — an expense the company will cover in addition to Bright’s primary compensation, he said.
“When the pipeline’s done, there won’t be any difference whatsoever,” Bright said. “It’ll be completely buried.”
He said opponents’ environmental objections are unfounded. Opponents say the pipeline will bring hundreds of square miles of forest clearcutting through threatened and endangered species habitat, sedimentation in more than 300 rivers and streams and extensive dredging in the Coos Bay channel.
“Nature is very resilient,” Bright said. “No matter what you do to it, it’s going to come back. It’s all about timelines.”
Bright said he spent years turning over logs trying to see his first Pacific giant salamander in Oregon. He admits the pipeline will destroy entire populations of creatures such as salamanders that reside in small locations on the pipeline’s path, but he doesn’t think there will be long-lasting damage.
“Over time, it’s going to completely regenerate,” he said.
FERC’s draft impact statement said the project would cause “temporary, long-term and permanent impacts on the environment,” but concluded that recommended mitigation efforts would reduce impacts to less than substantial levels. Opponents refute that mitigation can adequately reduce damage.
Bright also denies the consensus of the global scientific community that says changing climates are a result of fossil fuel emissions.
“That falls in the category of fake news,” Bright said.
The key role atmospheric carbon dioxide plays in insulating heat on the surface of the earth has been upheld for more than 100 years. Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius published a paper studying carbon dioxide’s greenhouse effect in 1896. Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels reached 415 parts per million in May — for years, they’ve been at their highest levels in the last 800,000 years.
The federal draft environmental impact statement shows the Jordan Cove project would be the largest greenhouse gas emitter in the state. Jordan Cove officials acknowledge that humans are changing the earth’s climate, but they argue natural gas is a more environmentally-friendly fuel source than coal, which they say East Asian countries will use more of without the gas.
Bright said the project’s benefits to the local economy will outweigh the costs. Douglas County would receive $4.6 million in annual tax revenue, according to an economic analysis by consulting firm ECONorthwest.
The project would produce $9.8 billion in overall construction spending, the report said. Of that, $2.88 billion would be spent at Oregon businesses and $1.5 billion would go to Oregon workers.
Additionally, there would be 6,000 temporary construction jobs and 215 permanent jobs primarily at the Coos Bay facility.
Bright is in the minority of landowners who signed agreements with the project’s previous owner, Veresen Inc, in 2012. About 20% of landowners signed agreements with Veresen, according to Vogel.
“Because I made an agreement early, that compensation was not near what the people now are being compensated,” Bright said. “I’ve requested more. I’m not asking for anything special, I just want the same as my neighbors got.”
He said while a new agreement hasn’t been finalized, Jordan Cove has committed to giving him more.
Bright has neighbors nearby who refuse to sign agreements. If the project is approved, many landowners have committed to going to court over the use of eminent domain.
“I haven’t really thought about how my action is affecting them personally,” Bright said. “I’m definitely a personal freedom type of person. The second amendment, free speech, those are my rights, do not take them away from me. And your property is the same way.
“I’m not opposed to the pipeline going around them somehow. If they don’t want it on their property, then it shouldn’t go on their property.”
Ron Clack, another Myrtle Creek landowner on the pipeline’s path, agrees that people who don’t want the pipeline on their land shouldn’t be forced to.
Clack refused to sign a deal for years. He said when employees of the project’s previous owners came to his property, they had no interest in addressing his concerns. He added they talked about using eminent domain if he didn’t sign an agreement.
“They wanted to take something for nothing,” Clack said.
But Clack, who has lived on the same 200-acre property since 1939, recently signed an agreement with Jordan Cove. That change was largely due to Jordan Cove’s willingness to cross North Myrtle Creek by boring underneath it instead of going over it — something Veresen was unwilling to do.
Clack lives about 500 feet from the creek, and he said during heavy storms, he’s seen the creek uproot 90-foot trees near the banks and carry them downstream. Building a natural gas pipeline across the stream was untenable to him.
He remembers when the first telephone poles were installed on the road by his house in the 1940s. He also remembers fighting with power companies for years over timber maintenance around the transmission lines that run over the ridge on his property. He said they deceived him on multiple occasions about how much they were going to log.
His decision to sign an agreement with Jordan Cove is partly because employees are open to negotiations, and they don’t talk about eminent domain, he said.
While it wasn’t his primary motivation, Clack said by signing an agreement, he could help pay for his brother’s dialysis treatments and his sister-in-law’s retirement facility expenses. His brother died shortly after the agreement was completed.
“We signed before this all happened,” Clack said. “But it was well enough that that’s one way we could help them.”
Although the contest of wills between Republicans and Democrats absorbed a lot of oxygen during the 2019 legislative session, there was a lot of other business taking place underneath the surface of that conflict.
Perhaps most notable for the Southwest Oregon senate district represented by Sen. Dallas Heard, R-Winston, was the fact that this was a banner year for legislative funding of projects that will boost the local economy.
Chief among these is $10 million in funding for an allied health college that will be operated by George Fox University and offer bachelor’s and advanced degrees in nursing, counseling, physical therapy and other fields. The hope is that this college, to be located in Roseburg, will boost the economy, transform the town’s appearance, and help turn around the desperate shortage of rural health professionals.
Other big projects receiving funding include money for an industrial technology building at Umpqua Community College and an emergency room in Brookings.
Heard said he and the two House representatives in his district, Gary Leif, R-Roseburg, and David Brock Smith, R-Port Orford, worked as a team to get the projects funded.
One disappointment this session is that funding for a state veterans home on the Roseburg Veterans Affairs Medical Center campus did not receive funding.
Heard said it was important for him to focus on the other projects as priorities, because needed federal funding for the veterans home project was not going to come through.
However, he said he does hope to work with the federal congressional delegation to get the Roseburg vets home pushed higher on the federal priority list. Once that’s done, he said, he can push for the state funding match in a future session.
Heard said he made the college funding his priority, and although he initially asked for more, he said he believes the state’s $10 million combined with the city of Roseburg’s pledge to match that amount is about two-thirds of what’s needed to start the project. He said he believes the rest of the money will be generated from other sources in the next few weeks, but wouldn’t yet name names.
“We’ve got our major pieces in play now to where we will be moving forward. At some point here in the very near future, the start gun will go off and we’ll be pushing forward into the reality stage of it,” he said.
Heard said the college will transform Roseburg. People driving through will see a beautiful college, he said, and the economy will be diversified. While Roseburg will still be the timber capital of the world, it will also be a college town, he said.
There will be good paying jobs, a reason for local people to stay here. There will be opportunities for veterans to use their G.I. Bill funds to study here and then take jobs at the VA.
“This region’s going to see the sun rise on it again,” Heard said.
Heard also said once the college is in place and its graduates are filling up the VA’s vacancies, it will be easier to persuade the federal government to fund the veterans home.
Roseburg VA Director Keith Allen said he couldn’t comment on funding for either the college or the veterans home because he can’t comment on pending legislation.
However, he did forward a letter from former interim director David Whitmer, who wrote to Oregon Department of Veterans Affairs Senior Policy Advisor Laurie Skillman about the VA’s support for the allied health college.
Whitmer wrote that the VA had 253 vacancies, 87 of them for registered nurses. He said the college would help them fill such vacancies and increase access for veteran patients.
“As a major employer of medical personnel, the VA’s interest is in having a pipeline of future employees who can care for the Nation’s heroes,” Whitmer wrote.
While bringing home the bacon was a big part of the session for Heard, so was his participation in the walkout by 11 Republican senators. Unlike the others, most of whom headed to Idaho, Heard traveled with his family to California. He declined to be more specific than that.
Heard said he spent most of his time on the phone, talking to other Republican legislators. He also worked on the funding items like the $10 million for the college, which was pushed through in the final weekend after the Republicans returned. And he helped organize the rally in Salem against the cap and trade climate legislation in House Bill 2020.
Steve Loosley, former owner of Roseburg Paving, current UCC board chairman and a volunteer in Heard’s office, said he saw Heard emerge as a leader in his party this session.
Loosley was involved in the early discussions about creating the allied health college here, back in 2012. Despite his involvement with UCC, he doesn’t see a conflict. That’s because he believes the two colleges will be complementary, with the UCC offering two-year programs that will feed into the four-year and graduate programs at the George Fox satellite.
Heard, he said, was “just the right person at the right time to really bring this home for our community.”
Heard said he was motivated by a quote from runner Steve Prefontaine. Heard’s father Dick Heard was on the University of Oregon track team with Prefontaine, and Prefontaine once told him if a race came down to willpower he would always win. More famously, he said, “Somebody may beat me, but they are going to have to bleed to do it. I’m going to work so that it’s a pure guts race at the end and if it is, I am the only one who can win it. To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.”
“It’s kind of like what Henry Ford said, and I live by this one too, ‘Whether you think you can or you can’t, you are right,’” Dallas Heard said.
In addition to the funding for the allied health college, the legislature funded this session:
Ian Hutchins of Roseburg on Tuesday filed a lawsuit against the Grand Victorian Theater alleging owners Marcus and Joanne Ogle did not pay him $2,500 for directing and starring in the Rocky Horror Show, court documents show.
Hutchins said Marcus and Joanne Ogle agreed to pay Hutchins $2,500 two weeks after the show ended. Nearly nine months later, Hutchins says he has still not been paid.
Marcus Ogle said the Grand Victorian Theatre is going out of business after a “major internal turmoil” at the theatre and the recent cancelling of their show, The Mad Tea Party.
“Basically, our business is done and we are closing the doors,” Marcus said. “We’d like to go ahead and go to mediation in the court. We have a little bit of a disagreement about what Ian says we owe him.”
Hutchins said the payment was supposed to be distributed between himself, the assistant director of the show, Erika Brandmeier and music director Ryan Norman – leaving three people without money they were expecting.
“I hired them on, Joanne and Marcus didn’t seek them out,” Hutchins said. “But I was going to be paid and then I was going to split that money.”
The case will enter the small claims department of the Douglas County Circuit Court. The lawsuit is for $2,600 to account for the alleged withheld payment to Hutchins and legal fees.
“It’s just been really a thing that’s caused a lot of struggle amongst us,” Hutchins said. “For me, it affects my college bills. I went to Cornish College of the Arts for a year and a half. I have some substantial bills that need to be paid in a timely manner and I was unable to do that.”
The Rocky Horror Show ran last October at the Grand Victorian Theatre. Hutchins said he was hired as the director in August and auditioned for and was cast as the role of Frank-N-Furter.
Marcus said the Ogle’s bought the theatre in December of 2017 and struggled to keep it open. They had to sell valuables to keep the doors open and were preparing for another show, The Mad Tea Party, before the theatre had to close.