Protestors Swamp LNG Meeting
WARRENTON — Local activists opposed to a project that would ship liquefied natural gas from the Skipanon Peninsula near the mouth of Columbia River crammed into the Warrenton Community Center Tuesday night for a public meeting, hosted by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.
The activists, dressed in red T-shirts that said “I am not an LNG acceptable risk,” were mostly part of Columbia Riverkeepers, an advocacy group against the proposed Oregon LNG project.
The controversial project, which the activists protested before the public meeting, relies on multiple permit approvals being considered by the Oregon DEQ, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development.
Each agency has to approve permits before Oregon LNG can build an import/export terminal. If one permit is denied, the project is denied.
“We are counting on them, the people sitting in this room tonight to make the right decision,” Columbia Riverkeeper Conservation Director Dan Serres said.
DEQ, Army Corps of Engineers and the DLCD all had representation at the public meeting Tuesday.
Standing room only
After brief presentations about the permitting process, the three-hour public meeting shifted to a question-and-answer session. The officials fielded questions from 30 people, all seemingly against the proposed project.
No local or state public officials attended the meeting, and no tribal representation was in attendance. The majority of the standing-room-only crowd were activists in opposition.
Questions regarding environmental concerns and technical aspects of the project were deflected, and the public was encouraged to leave comments with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC, another agency reviewing the project.
FERC is preparing a draft environmental impact statement that will be open for public comment later this year.
Although some may have felt frustrated at answers such as “We don’t know yet, but that is a good comment for FERC,” the officials said, they were pleased with the suggestions and took the questions seriously.
“I can promise you we have no legal obligation to be here tonight. As you know, we are super early in the process,” Nina Concini, DEQ northwest region administrator, said. “We absolutely are serious about this. You live here. You recreate on the river. You are extremely in touch with it. It’s part of your lives. We would not be here if we were not serious about taking your information and trying to answer questions.”
No easement update
With the Army Corps in attendance, the public hoped to hear an update on a lawsuit filed in August by Oregon LNG for access to an easement over the proposed terminal site, controlled by the Corps since 1957. The Corps uses the land for disposing dredge spoils.
Last month, Columbia Riverkeepers discovered the court filings for the easement issue that went undetected since August.
The Corps filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit in November.
Richard Chong, project manager for the Corps, told the crowd the Corps cannot comment on any litigation. Later, the Corps officials hinted at the importance of real estate issues when considering a permit. A permit will not be issued without real estate considerations, they said.
Along with possibly not having rights to the federally owned land, Oregon LNG was recently denied a permit at the county level.
The Oregon Court of Appeals ruled last month in favor of Clatsop County, upholding its decision to deny a permit for the pipeline to the terminal.
Oregon LNG challenged the county’s decision Oct. 18, 2013, to deny the permit on the grounds of bias, but the Court of Appeals ultimately sided with the county.
Oregon LNG continues to push forward by seeking permits from the agencies at the meeting Tuesday under the Clean Water Act and the Coastal Zone Management Act.
Its project would construct a terminal on the Skipanon Peninsula and an 87-mile pipeline in Clatsop, Tillamook and Columbia counties. The project started as import only in 2004, but the scope changed in 2012 to an import/export project, requiring more permitting.
At the meeting, the agencies said they plan to review the results of FERC’s draft environmental statement while working independently on their own permitting processes.
Not firm timelines have been set.
DEQ scheduled another public meeting from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday in Vernonia, where locals have concerns about impacts of the pipeline.
All levels of permitting from the county to the federal government are important to the process, Concini told the crowd.
“It’s more of a sequence as opposed to one gets more weight. Hopefully everything will get the same amount of weight,” Concini said.