A federal magistrate judge has found that Oregon LNG’s challenge to an Army Corps of Engineers easement on the Skipanon Peninsula in Warrenton came too late.
Oregon LNG claimed the Army Corps, which has held an easement to deposit dredging spoils since 1957, has no right to land beneath the water that the energy company intends to use for a $6 billion export terminal and pipeline project. The company also wanted the U.S. District Court in Portland to declare that the company has the right to access the property across tidelands.
But Magistrate Judge John V. Acosta concluded Tuesday that the federal lawsuit should be dismissed because the 12-year statute of limitations to bring such a claim under federal law had expired.
The federal statute of limitations starts to run in such property title disputes when a complainant knew or should have known that the United States claimed an interest in the land.
While the Army Corps has not deposited dredging spoils on the easement since 1992, the judge found that the state and the Port of Astoria — which has leased the property to Oregon LNG since 2004 — knew or should have known of the easement.
At an interagency meeting in 2009, the Army Corps raised concerns that the project could intersect with dikes and levees on the easement and conflict with the disposal of dredge spoils. Oregon LNG, in a declaration to the court, said the company had not been aware prior to that meeting that the Army Corps would assert any interest in the land.
Oregon LNG sued the Army Corps over the issue last August.
An attorney for Oregon LNG could not be reached for comment on the magistrate judge’s findings or whether the company would appeal.
Brushed off adverse rulings
Oregon LNG has brushed off other adverse rulings against the project, which involves an 87-mile pipeline from Washington state through Columbia, Tillamook and Clatsop counties to an export terminal in Warrenton.
In April, the state Land Use Board of Appeals upheld Clatsop County’s 2013 decision to deny a permit for a portion of the pipeline. Oregon LNG responded by saying the company would continue to pursue the project, downplaying the importance of local review.
Local, state and federal agencies are examining different aspects of the project. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has said the final environmental impact statement could be completed by next February.
Environmentalists, fishermen and many residents in Warrenton and Astoria have been fighting to stop the project, warning that the pipeline and terminal could pose safety and environmental risks.
Critics have celebrated every potential setback for Oregon LNG as victories that could doom the project.
“The corps vigorously defended this lawsuit to protect a valuable public property right and the court got it right,” Miles Johnson, a clean water attorney for Columbia Riverkeeper, a Hood River-based environmental group, said in a statement.
Johnson said the ruling “could spell the end to Oregon LNG’s 10-year effort to site one of the most destructive, dangerous projects we’ve ever seen proposed on the Columbia River.”