The future of the Jordan Cove Energy Project was called into question Wednesday after a Douglas County judge nullified a key permit for the project.
Ruling in favor of lawsuit petitioners, Circuit Court Judge Kathleen Johnson reversed the county’s decision to grant extensions to the Pacific Connector Gas Pipeline for its conditional land use permit on a 7-mile stretch of county forestland near Camas Valley. The pipeline would run through 229 miles of Southern Oregon from Malin to the planned Jordan Cove export terminal in Coos Bay. It would cross 64 miles of land in Douglas County.
Four petitioners sued the county in February, after it granted its seventh one-year extension to the permit on Dec. 8, 2017. The permit was originally approved on Dec. 10, 2009.
In her decision, Johnson said the gas company, Pacific Connector Gas Pipeline, LP, failed to meet two conditions of the permit. Construction had to begin within two years of the permit being issued, and the project needed approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Johnson said the county violated the law by issuing a permit extension on Dec. 20, 2016 — and again on Dec. 8, 2017 — after the permit expired on Dec. 10, 2016. Additionally, on March 11, 2016, FERC denied the pipeline’s application, stating there was “little or no evidence of need” for the project.
Johnson’s decision nullifies all previous county conditional land use permits for the pipeline, including one issued on Dec. 11, 2018, by Joshua Shaklee, the new county planning director. Several other permits for the Jordan Cove Project are currently being reviewed by the State of Oregon and federal agencies.
Opponents of the project saw the decision as a major victory.
“The court’s decision is validating and offers landowners vindication that the land use process means something,” said Stacey McLaughlin in a press release. McLaughlin is a local landowner and the chief petitioner on the lawsuit. “Without the seven mile stretch in Douglas County, the Pacific Connector Gas Pipeline cannot connect to the proposed Jordan Cove terminal in Coos Bay, essentially leaving it dead in the water.”
County Commissioners Chris Boice and Tim Freeman were not available for comment when the story broke Wednesday night. Tamara Osborne, a county spokeswoman, issued a statement from the county at 3 o'clock Thursday.
"The Douglas County Board of Commissioners and Planning Department officials are currently reviewing the recent court decision by Judge Johnson to better understand the inferences of the ruling," read the county statement. "At this time, the County has no further actions to take."
Michael Hinrichs, a spokesman for the Jordan Cove Project, said the company has been "working on both the litigation and administrative tracks for some time now."
"We are now examining yesterday's court decision and considering all options, including appeal," Hinrichs said. "We are also looking at the administrative option of filing for a new permit. Any suggestion that we are out of option is misleading."
Francis Eatherington, another local landowner and petitioner on the lawsuit, said the county had been “rubber stamping” a project that would damage the county’s valuable environment. The pipeline would traverse more than 400 rivers and streams in the state and require clearing of forestland in its path.
Proponents of the project argue that it would bring jobs to an economically depressed region. 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.
“This project is nothing more than how to burn more fossil fuels and exasperate our climate problems,” Eatherington said. “We’re going to spend billions of dollars on infrastructure in order to use this toxic climate gas for the next 50 years? Why? Can’t we put those billions of dollars into renewable energy technology instead?”
This story will be updated as new information becomes available.