A hearings officer ruled that the Pacific Connector natural gas pipeline should be allowed to cross the county’s coastal zone.
In a decision peppered with criticisms of pipeline opponents, Hearings Officer Andrew Stamp ruled last week that the county should grant Canadian developer Pembina a conditional use permit to build a Pacific Connector natural gas pipeline across a 7.5-mile stretch of the county in the Coastal Zone Management Area.
The strip of land in the Camas Valley area is the only spot along the proposed 229-mile pipeline between Malin and a proposed Jordan Cove liquefaction facility in Coos Bay over which the Douglas County government has any say. The county had routinely rubber stamped annual extensions to the pipeline’s conditional use permit granted in 2009 but had to revisit the issue after a judge ruled in January that the county broke the law when it issued permit extensions in 2016 and 2017 after the permit had expired.
Stamp, a Lake Oswego-based attorney contracted by the county to serve as a hearings officer in place of the Douglas County Planning Commisssion, found that the pipeline would have minimal impact on farm and forest uses along its pathway, and that it would not significantly increase wildfire risks in the county’s coastal zone. In his 94-page decision, he also disparaged some opponents of the pipeline.
In written testimony, Umpqua Watersheds Conservation Chairman Joseph Patrick Quinn had expressed concerns about what he said were existential threats posed by placing a pipeline in an area that could experience earthquakes and tsunamis. He also critiqued what he said were the company’s misleading advertisements about employment, revenue and safety.
“Any concerned citizen [blessed] with decent eye sight and possessed of reasonable intelligence recognizes malarkey when then see and hear it,” Quinn wrote, as quoted in Stamp’s decision.
“The hearings officer finds it surprising that an advocacy group would write such an unprofessional letter,” Stamp fired back. “It is an understatement to say that author of this letter presents himself in a poor light. The hearings officer finds his testimony to be noncredible.”
Quinn said Tuesday he could see outside his home’s window the 1,000 foot escarpment to the west that the pipeline would zigzag up, and he’s not comforted. He said the government’s saying out one side of its mouth to get ready for a massive earthquake and tsunami event, but out the other side of its mouth it’s saying the pipeline is OK.
“If as I said in my comments protecting the citizenry from a worsening of the threat from natural hazards, if it does not apply in this case then when in the hell does it apply?” Quinn said.
The bulk of Stamp’s references to opponents address points made by landowner Stacey McLaughlin, who he also labeled not credible and criticized in a footnote.
“In particular, Ms. McLaughlin’s credibility is lowered because of other bizarre assertions she makes in her letter, such as alleging that pipelines facilitate human trafficking ... as well as her over-the-top accusations of bias and deceit by the Board of Commissioners,” Stamp wrote.
McLaughlin said Monday she expected Stamp would rule in the pipeline developers’ favor, but she didn’t expect comments like those. She cited multiple news stories discussing problems with human trafficking, especially of Native American women, at camps where men had gathered to work on pipeline projects. She also referenced a footnote in the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s Environmental Impact Statement on the Jordan Cove project, which cites a Colorado Law School study on the problem.
“Essentially what I do believe this does is call into question Andrew Stamp’s professional credibility and capacity to address any kind of citizen inquiry that is not in alignment with Jordan Cove and Pacific Connector, because Patrick Quinn is a very credible individual and the testimony that he offered is extremely relevant. So it would appear that if Mr. Stamp doesn’t have evidence against what people say then he attacks personally,” she said.
In his decision, Stamp disputed assertions that the county commissioners are biased in the project’s favor. It’s tougher to prove bias in Oregon than in neighboring states like Washington, he wrote. Simply receiving campaign contributions from the company isn’t sufficient, Stamp said.
According to the Oregon Secretary of State’s records, Commissioner Tim Freeman received a $5,000 campaign contribution from Pacific Connector in May 2018.
A previously stated opinion in favor of the project isn’t sufficient either, so long as the decision-makers say they will put personal feelings aside and rule on the matter based on the evidence before them, Stamp wrote. He said the law recognizes that officials are elected because of their views on issues, not in spite of those views.
Stamp’s decision included a dozen conditions. One of those was based on agreement with a point made by landowner Francis Eatherington, who suggested that people shooting at a block valve assembly located above ground could create an explosion risk. Stamp set a condition that the company analyze the risk and if necessary install protective armor.
Stamp was hired by the county to make a decision in place of the Douglas County Planning Commission, according to Douglas County Planning Director Joshua Shaklee.
But Shaklee said Stamp misunderstood his role in the process and presented his findings as just a recommendation to the county commissioners.
Shaklee said the county asked Stamp to revise his initial report to clarify he was deciding rather than recommending the permit should be approved. The corrected document was submitted Friday, three days after the original version, Shaklee said.
McLaughlin said she thinks the county’s making up the rules willy nilly. She said a decision rather than a recommendation will create an expensive extra layer of appeals.
Shaklee disagreed. He said opponents can appeal to the county commissioners.
“The process has not changed at any point. There are no additional fees, or additional steps to the process,” he said.