CANYONVILLE — A public hearing drew more than 300 people to the Seven Feathers Casino and Resort in Canyonville on Wednesday night.
It was the third hearing in as many days held across southern Oregon by the Oregon Department of State Lands to take public comments for Jordan Cove Energy Project’s removal-fill permit application.
Approval of the application would permit the Canadian energy company Pembina to build a 229-mile natural gas pipeline across 400 waterways and wetlands in Southern Oregon to an export terminal in Coos Bay. It’s one of several state and federal permits the project needs to have approved before starting.
Twenty-eight percent of the pipeline — or 64 miles — would cut across Douglas County lands, according to Pembina spokesman Michael Hinrichs. Forty-two miles of that land is privately owned, including 17 miles owned by timber companies. The remaining 22 miles are public land.
Hundreds of Oregonians have spoken out against the project, which they say threatens private and tribal land rights and the environment. Those voicing opposition to the project have outnumbered primarily union pipeline builders who have spoken in support.
The hearing Wednesday began with tension.
Vicki Walker, director of the state lands department, announced format changes to ensure everyone’s voices be heard. Walker told the crowd that people who hadn’t spoken at the previous hearings would comment first. She also said disabled people and senior citizens would take priority because many of them didn’t get a chance to speak last night, when more than 1,000 people attended the hearing in Central Point.
An audience member stood up and asked Walker who gave her the authority to make those changes. Walker said she, as a director appointed by Gov. Kate Brown, could make the changes to better facilitate the hearings.
Walker also ejected someone from the at-capacity hearing room for clapping following public comment. She had explained only silent demonstrations of support were allowed. The man said that he had recently arrived and didn’t hear the rule, but Walker didn’t yield.
Following the interruptions, the hearing proceeded with a large majority of people voicing opposition.
Bill Gow has a cattle ranch between Roseburg and Myrtle Creek that sits in the path of the pipeline. He has owned the ranch for 30 years.
“If I got a nickel for every hour I’ve spent on this fight in the last 14 years, I’d be a wealthy man,” Gow said in an interview.
Ownership of the proposed project has switched several times since the first hearings took place in 2005. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which has the final say on whether or not the pipeline will be built, denied the project twice in 2016, stating that there was little evidence of need for it.
Gow said he ignored several letters notifying him of the proposed pipeline on his land more than a decade ago. A surveyor showed up on his land soon after the letters arrived. “I ran him off, and it has been downhill ever since,” he said.
The energy company offered Gow $14,000 for two miles of land the pipeline would cross. Gow rejected the offer because he wants to ensure his son can ranch on the land unimpeded in the future.
During his public comment testimony, Gow questioned how the Department of State Lands could make a decision on the permit when many of his property’s streams and wetlands haven’t been surveyed by the energy company.
The department is mandated to protect Oregon’s water resources and ensure their best use. The public comment period ends on Feb. 3.
Hinrichs, the spokesman for the energy company, said in an interview that everyone’s land would be properly surveyed before the project begins. But landowners said they don’t believe that’s possible before the state lands department makes its decision.
Hinrichs is confident that the removal-fill permit application will be approved, despite the demonstrations of opposition. He said he thinks the public hearing period is important, but also that many of the comments are broader than the scope of the state lands department’s review — whether or not the pipeline will adversely affect Oregon’s water resources.
Jacob Lebel, a local farmer who spoke in opposition to the pipeline, said the department’s inability to review how the pipeline will contribute to climate change prevents it from adequately assessing its impact on Oregon’s waterways.
Lebel is also a plaintiff on the Our Children’s Trust lawsuit, which is suing the federal government for inaction on climate change.
“LNG (liquefied natural gas) is mostly methane, which is an 84 times more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide,” Lebel said. “The third Oregon climate assessment clearly stated that in the near future climate change will reduce snowpack in our mountains to nearly none. That means no snowmelt that feeds our rivers in the summer. That means heightened river temperatures, which means dangerous habitat for salmon spawning. And it means toxic algae blooms.”
Mitigation plans to support salmon habitat, which the project has included in its application, are null if the pipeline contributes to habitat damage through climate change, according to Lebel.
Hinrichs said the mitigation plans have gotten praise from environmentalists, however.
Richard Stroud, a former Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife employee, said he supports the project because of its mitigation plans and potential economic benefits.
“I watched, when I was in the regional office of the fish and wildlife service, the destruction of the lumber industry of Oregon because of the emotional appeals and all the political doings that were not scientifically-based or based on pseudoscience with the spotted owl issue,” Stroud said. “And this whole area is depressed because of that.”
The project will create 6,000 temporary construction jobs and 200 permanent jobs to maintain the pipeline and export terminal, according to the project’s website.
Testimony by Myrtle Creek resident Yvonne Gallentine was the kind of emotional appeal that Stroud warned against, but it garnered emphatic hand waving from the crowd in silent praise.
A conservationist determined that two madrone trees on Gallentine’s property are over 2,000 years old, she said. One has a circumference of 18 feet and 4 inches.
She said the trees are fed by an underground aquifer in the path of the pipeline that is at risk of being disturbed, which she said could harm the trees.
“Those trees were sprouts when Jesus walked on our earth,” Gallentine said.
Douglas County government saw some changes in 2018, including the formation of an independent transportation district and the acquisition of an RV park at Winchester Bay.
Commissioners Chris Boice and Tim Freeman delivered the annual State of the County address Wednesday at the Douglas County Courthouse in Roseburg. Together, they offered a window into what the county government accomplished last year, from how many birth certificates were recorded last year (555) to how many separate events were held at the county fairgrounds last year (271).
Joshua Shaklee replaced Keith Cubic, who had been the longest standing county employee with more than 47 years working on county planning before his retirement last year.
Last year also saw the early retirement of County Assessor Roger Hartman, and the election of Heather Coffel to replace him.
Freeman said the County Clerk’s Office registered more than 2,500 new voters last year. In addition to all the birth certificates issued in 2018, the Clerk’s Office recorded 6,714 death certificates and 707 marriage licenses, but no divorces.
“I’m happy to say Douglas County marries people. If you want a divorce, you’ve got to go to the state of Oregon. They do that,” Freeman said.
Freeman said the District Attorney’s Office reviewed 4,850 cases and assisted 623 new crime victims.
The county continued its contract with a nonprofit organization to manage public health, and that organization has been conducting drive-through flu clinics — a procedure that would enable them to rapidly administer vaccinations during an epidemic, Freeman said.
Boice reported that more than 183,000 people attended those events at the fairgrounds, and they reinvested about $4 million into the local economy. The fairgrounds also went back to a five-day fair. In the coming year, Boice said, Douglas Hall at the fairgrounds will be renovated.
Boice also lauded the Douglas County Museum for being named in the top ten on the list of the Top 100 Best Fan-Favorite Destinations in Oregon. The list was created by the company that owns Oregon Business magazine.
He said it’s too bad that many county residents drive past the museum every day without ever having been there.
“If you haven’t, and you’re on that list, you need to go check it out. It’s fantastic. They’ve really done a great job with the museum,” he said.
He also noted that the Umpqua River Lighthouse is now open seven days a week and is getting a new paint job. The Umpqua River Lighthouse Museum’s revenue increased last year because it was open more hours, Boice said. The lighthouse museum made 18th on the Fan-Favorite list.
Boice said the big topic of conversation for the Parks Department this year was the acquisition of the RV park formerly known as Discovery Point and now known as Umpqua Dunes RV Park.
“That continues to be a tremendous asset and a good move for the Douglas County Parks Department. It’s performing beyond expectations as far as revenues,” he said.
He also said the county has been able to speed up the RV park’s renovations because of increased revenues there, and it’s expecting to receive a $400,000 grant for the project.
Overall, the Parks Department had more than 37,000 camping nights reserved at its parks in 2018 and 5,353 annual parking passes were sold. The crab dock at Winchester Bay was also improved, and a new playground installed at River Forks Park.
The Solid Waste Department dealt with changes to the global recycling market that led to a reduction last year in the types of recyclables Douglas County now takes at its landfill and transfer stations. Boice said county officials also discovered that the landfill has a longer lifespan than previously thought.
The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office patrol division responded to more than 60,000 calls for service last year and made 3,140 arrests. Search and Rescue’s 100 volunteers responded to 106 missions, nearly double the average of 60 missions per year, Boice said.
Freeman reported that the efforts of the Association of O&C Counties, of which he is the president, successfully lobbied for policy changes that led to more than $1 million in additional timber revenues for the county budget.
Boice said the county continues to spend out of its reserves, and its 2019 goal is to continue finding new ways to provide essential services to the county. He cited the city of Roseburg reopening the former main branch of the Douglas County Library System and the passage of library districts in Reedsport and Drain as examples of how services have continued despite changes.
“You’ll notice the services haven’t gone away. They’re still here, they’re just being provided differently,” he said.
During its regular meeting Wednesday, the Roseburg School Board of Directors approved a temporary easement through the Roseburg High School parking lot to make way for construction around Exit 124 off Interstate 5.
The board passed the resolution unanimously after a brief discussion confirming the detour was only for the residents behind the high school.
The Oregon Department of Transportation agreed to pay the district $79,900 in exchange for the temporary easement and a small plot of land required for the West Harvard Avenue exit improvements.
The project includes replacing traffic lights at the I-5 southbound and northbound off-ramps to West Harvard Avenue, which were installed in the 1970s and require frequent maintenance. Additional signage will be installed to improve traffic safety. The area is at vehicle capacity with more than 24,000 vehicles using it each day, according to an estimate by ODOT.
Contractors will be able to bid for the project starting on March 21. The estimated budget will be $2.5 million.
Chief Operations Officer for the district, Cheryl Northam said it’s only going to affect about 24 residents in the neighborhood behind the high school and is not meant to bring heavy traffic through the parking lot.
“It’s going to be in the summer, it’s only for two weeks and we’re being compensated for that,” Northam said. “The idea is, it’s just residents. It’s just for two weeks.”
“Our number one priority is the safety of our kids and their families and these improvements should improve safety around here,” said Roseburg High School Principal Jill Weber.