190503-nrr-permit

A view from the air shows the proposed route for the Pacific Connector Gas Pipeline during a flyover in September.

The Douglas County Planning Commission tabled proposed amendments to its land use development ordinance that were scheduled for a legislative hearing at the commission meeting Thursday.

The amendments were a response to a January Douglas County court decision, which nullified a conditional land use permit for the Pacific Connector Gas Pipeline, LP. The permit authorized the proposed natural gas pipeline to be built on a 7-mile stretch of county forestland near Camas Valley.

It’s the second time the commission has tabled the amendments. In May, when the amendments were originally proposed, public testimony against the proposal showed the amendments conflicted with state land use regulations.

“In coordination with the attorney, county counsel, there was a recognition that part of the amendments did not match up with the Oregon Administrative Rule,” said county Planning Manager Jeff Lehrbach during a planning commission workshop immediately before the regular meeting Thursday.

No changes were made to the original proposal, and the amendments had to be tabled again, Lehrbach said.

The amendments would remove the requirement that a county planner approve land use permit extensions. Permit extensions would be granted automatically if the applicant submitted the application and fee before the permit expiration date and the applicant’s plan did not change.

The changes would prevent the conditions that prompted a court ruling against the county earlier this year after the county failed to issue a timely permit extension to the Pacific Connector Pipeline.

In her ruling, Douglas County Circuit Court Judge Kathleen Johnson said the county violated its land use ordinance by issuing its seventh one-year extension to the Pacific Connector permit on Dec. 8, 2017. She said the permit became void when the county failed to grant its sixth permit extension by the deadline on Dec. 10, 2016. The permit was originally granted on Dec. 10, 2009, and the county began granting one-year extensions for the permit in 2011 after construction didn’t begin within two years as required.

Stacey McLaughlin, a landowner in the pipeline’s path, was one of four petitioners in the January lawsuit against the county. She testified in May that the proposed amendments violate state law and remove county oversight of land use developments.

“What the county is proposing is an attempt to legitimize its rubber-stamping of permit extensions and remove all accountability for a developer who fails to meet the statutory two-year development period,” McLaughlin said in a May email. “The proposed change is in direct violation of Oregon Administrative Rules.”

In her testimony to the planning commission, she referred to an Oregon rule stating an approval of a land use permit extension is an administrative decision, requiring the discretion of a county official, she said.

“She brought up a good point, and it took a while to get there, but our county counsel did confirm and get there,” Lehrbach told the planning commission during the workshop.

Lehrbach said while state law prevents the county from applying the amendments to permit extensions on farm and forestland, the county may revise the proposal so it can apply to other types of land use such as urban areas.

Pacific Connector reapplied in April for the land use permit nullified by the court. In late May, the county sent the company revisions, which county spokeswomen Tamara Howell said were relatively minor technical issues. Pacific Connector has 180 days to make the revisions and send the application back.

Max Egener can be reached at megener@nrtoday.com and 541-957-4217. Or follow him on Twitter @maxegener.

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City Reporter

Max Egener is the city reporter for The News-Review. He has a master's degree from the University of Oregon, and is an avid skier and backpacker.

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