Opponents of the Pacific Connector Pipeline told a hearings officer Thursday they fear a pipeline explosion, wildfire, landslides and damage to waterways if the project is allowed to proceed.
An attorney for the developer said those fears aren’t realistic since the pipeline would be built to meet regulations, while pipeline supporters wearing matching green T-shirts and black ball caps said the project would create jobs and tax revenue.
About 100 people crammed into the Douglas County Board of Commissioners chambers in the Douglas County Courthouse in Roseburg to speak for and against a county permit the pipeline developers need in order to cross the county’s coastal range.
Canadian energy company Pembina hopes to construct the pipeline from Malin to the planned Jordan Cove export terminal in Coos Bay.
The pipeline would cross 64 miles of land in Douglas County, but the county government’s authority extends only to the company’s right to develop along a 7-mile stretch of county forestland near Camas Valley, called the Coastal Zone Management Area. The 36-inch line would cross landslide-prone areas, steep ridges, forestland and waterways in that zone. Wherever it passed through, the pipeline would be surrounded by a wide ribbon of right of way, where trees would be cut and plant growth and use would be restricted.
Thursday’s hearing followed a January court decision that ruled previous permit extensions for the project invalid. The county had renewed the original 2009 permit multiple times, but a Douglas County Circuit Court judge ruled that the 2016 extension was invalid because it was not issued before the previous extension expired.
Andrew Stamp, the hearings officer, is a Lake Oswego attorney who specializes in zoning and land development. He was hired by the county to oversee the proceedings and will make a decision about whether a new permit should be approved. His decision could be appealed to the county commissioners, and after that to the Land Use Board of Appeals.
Stamp said he didn’t think he could make his decision based on things like jobs and tax revenue. Instead, he has to decide whether the permit should be issued based on land use planning and regulations. He did express interest in complaints that focused on whether the pipeline could be considered a utility, since the gas would be exported to Asia rather than used by Oregon residents, and in safety concerns such as wildfire risks. He asked some people to submit additional written testimony about those issues.
Opponents mentioned pipeline explosions in Kentucky and California as examples of what they said could happen here, and noted the area is heavily forested so an explosion could create a wildfire.
Thomas Broaddus of Roseburg said between 2010 and 2018 there were 5,500 reported pipeline incidents across the country, including 300 pipeline explosions.
“Construction of this pipeline and export facility would leave Oregonians with a bomb in our collective backyards,” he said.
Carol Munch of Camas Valley lives on forested property in the coastal zone that would be traversed by the pipeline. She said if there was an explosion, she would be surrounded by fire.
“The only benefit of this pipeline is to add to the wealth of Pembina. The company is prepared to take our land by eminent domain. A foreign country should never be allowed to force Americans to give up their land,” Munch said.
Stacey McLaughlin of Myrtle Creek said the Pacific Connector shouldn’t receive a permit because it is a private corporation, not a public utility.
“Pacific Connector gas pipeline is very much trying to stuff a square peg into a round hole with their description. It cannot be defined as a public utility. It does not currently possess, own, operate, manage, or control any plant or equipment for the transmission, delivery or furnishing of heat, light, water or power directly or indirectly to the public,” she said.
McLaughlin also challenged the hearing’s validity, saying the county commissioners did not formally appoint the hearings officer.
Sandra Lyon of Days Creek said the project would remove trees next to creeks that cross her property, and ban replanting in the right of way. She said she and her husband have worked for years to restore fish habitat on their property.
“They said they will return everything to original condition, but for the fish and the other critters in the creek, original condition would include trees and shade,” she said.
Joseph Quinn of Camas Valley said the pipeline would zigzag 1,000 feet up Weaver Ridge, which is prone to landslides. He also mentioned the likelihood of a Cascadia Zone earthquake hitting the area.
Supporter Nathan Earwood of Myrtle Creek said he owns 345 acres in the pipeline’s route and was offered a fair price in compensation for having the pipeline built across his land.
“From the very onset when they were surveying the pipeline route I’ve had nothing but a good experience with those folks,” he said.
He said local contractors would benefit, and said they have a vested interest in making sure things are done right.
“I think this is going to be a good thing for the state of Oregon,” he said.
A union representative from Yamhill said members of his union, which represents workers in road, bridge and pipeline construction, would benefit from the project. And he said the county would receive more than $4 million in tax revenue from it.
He also encouraged Stamp to consider that the county had previously approved the permit.
“A procedural issue in applying for and receiving their extensions is why the project is having to go through the approval process again,” he said.
Pembina attorney Seth King argued the project would be safe.
“If you listened to a lot of the opponent testimony, you would think that our application, the use that we were requesting was for a fire or for an explosion, and that’s not the case at all. We are proposing an interstate natural gas pipeline that is being built to federal, all of the federal safety standards and will be designed with multiple redundancies to prevent bad occurrences from happening,” he said.
“It’s totally inappropriate for everyone to assume the worst-case scenario will happen here. It ignores the thousands and thousands of miles of pipeline around this country that we all depend on and we all draw off of when there are no issues and there are no problems,” he said.
The proposed project has already faced regulatory hurdles from the state and federal governments. The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality in May denied the project a clean water permit it must have in order to obtain a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
In 2016, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission rejected the project on the basis that the company had not demonstrated a sufficient Asian market for the natural gas to justify the imposition on Oregon landowners.