After the seventh time Douglas County extended the timeline for construction to begin on the Pacific Connector Gas Pipeline in December, local petitioners sought to reverse the county’s decision in Douglas County Circuit Court on Monday.
The proposed 230-mile Pacific Connector pipeline would cross Klamath, Jackson, Douglas and Coos counties to reach Coos Bay’s North Spit, where the Jordan Cove Liquefied Natural Gas facility would be built to export the gas overseas.
The pipeline would be a 36-inch-diameter welded steel gas pipe and include a compressor station near Malin. Construction in wetlands and waterways would include trenching, blasting, fluming, damming and pumping, horizontal directional drilling and other methods, according to the Department of Environmental Quality.
Stacey McLaughlin of Myrtle Creek, one of the petitioners represented in court on Monday, has been protesting and taking legal action against the pipeline project for more than a decade, because it would directly cross her property. She told The News-Review last week it’s not right that the county keeps granting the pipeline company extensions when it goes against the Douglas County Land Use Development Ordinance.
The ordinance states a discretionary decision approving proposed development on agricultural or forest land is void if the development does not begin two years from the date of the final decision.
McLaughlin said what the county was doing was “unheard of in this country.”
The county has granted the pipeline company an extension every year since 2011, according to court documents.
On Dec. 8, 2017, Douglas County Planning Director Keith Cubic decided to grant another one-year extension for the pipeline to start construction.
Cubic could not be reached for comment in time for deadline.
The ordinance includes several exceptions that allow for an extension, including if the approval of an extension was not a land-use decision.
The ordinance also states an extension may be granted if delays were caused by a change of conditions for which the applicant is not responsible. But McLaughlin said the pipeline company was indeed responsible for the delay in construction because it did not comply with requests from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission — the reason why the commission denied the project in March 2016.
In September 2017, the Jordan Cove Energy Project and Pacific Connector pipeline companies submitted a new application to FERC.
Circuit Court Judge Kathleen Johnson heard oral arguments on the case in court on Monday.
Seth King, a land use and zoning attorney at Perkings Coie LLP, argued that the extension wasn’t a land use decision.
The petitioner’s attorney, Tonia Louise Moro, disagreed.
“This is a quintessential land use decision,” she said.
Moro referenced Douglas County’s Land Use and Development Ordinance, which lays out which decisions are administrative, making them subject to appeal, and which decisions are ministerial.
“The county can’t just decide it doesn’t want to subject itself to appeal,” Moro said.
She argued that the county refused to consider the fact that the FERK had denied the pipeline’s application.
King called the most recent extension too mundane for public participation.
McLaughlin said she and many other landowners have also filed to intervene against Pembina, the company behind the Pacific Connector Gas Pipeline, with the U.S. Department of Energy.
The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are currently accepting public comments on the most recent application from the Jordan Cove Energy Project until 5 p.m., July 21.
The Jordan Cove facility would handle up to 7.8 million tons of liquefied natural gas each year, according to the DEQ. The project would include underground utilities and a gas feed to the terminal, a marine slip and access channel, a marine offloading facility, a regional emergency response center, temporary workforce housing and related road and highway improvements.
It would also involve dredging four areas near the Coos Bay channel.
According to the DEQ, the facility would affect waterways and wetlands on the North Spit in Coos Bay, at dredge disposal sites and at the Kentuck Slough golf course mitigation site.
“The applicant has provided mitigation plans to offset impacts on affected wetlands and waterways,” according to DEQ officials. The plan includes enhancing the former Kentuck golf course and abutting land near North Bend and creating an eelgrass bed in Coos Bay southwest of the Southwest Oregon Regional Airport runway in North Bend.
The DEQ requires a water quality certification for any federally licensed or permitted projects that may result in a discharge into navigable waters.
Written comments may be emailed to JCEP401PublicComment@deq.state.or.us, faxed to 541-686-7551 or mailed to Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, 165 E. 7th Ave., Suite 100, Eugene, Oregon 97401, Attn: 401 Water Quality Certification Project Manager, Chris Stine.
After the DEQ reviews and considers all comments on the application, the agency may request additional information from the applicant and then develop an evaluation report and draft decision.
After that, the DEQ will conduct an additional public comment period before issuing a final decision whether or not to approve the application with or without conditions.