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.