Once again, the Clatsop County staff is recommending denial of the application from liquefied natural gas developer NorthernStar Natural Gas Co. for land use at Bradwood Landing.

In a 30-page supplemental report released Monday, county contract planner Mitch Rohse explains why the staff in the county's Community Development Department disagrees with the findings of the Clatsop County Planning Commission, a seven-member board that last month voted 4-3 to recommend approval of 27 NorthernStar land-use requests at a site 20 miles east of Astoria on the Columbia River.

The land-use application includes requests for zone changes and conditional-use permits that would allow Houston-based NorthernStar to build a $600 million LNG receiving terminal and send-out pipeline at an old mill site in Bradwood. But Rohse - and three of the seven planning commissioners - have argued the project is bigger and more disruptive to the environment than the county's land-use laws allow.

The LNG project would require dredging 58 acres of salmon habitat - 46 acres of which is in an "aquatic conservation" zone - to create a turning basin for LNG delivery tankers; rezoning 5 acres of protected wetlands for industrial use at the terminal site; and installing two or three 14-story LNG storage tanks - each the diameter of a football field - for a facility that some say stretches the county's definition of "small- to medium-sized development," which is the limit set for all projects at Bradwood.

The planning commission's advice and the opposing view of the county staff will now go before the Clatsop County Board of Commissioners, which has the final vote on the divisive proposal, though the board's decision can be appealed.

The county commission will hold a public hearing on the Bradwood Landing land-use application from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday at the Liberty Theater. A similar hearing before the planning commission in July drew comments from 120 LNG opponents and 64 supporters. It took more than two months from the hearing date for the planning commission to make a formal recommendation on the application; the county commission hasn't set a date for a final vote.

County Manager Scott Derickson said he's proud of the work his staff has done on the Bradwood Landing application.

"After internal debate about what position staff should recommend to the board of commissioners, we determined that we would continue to recommend denial on the application based on the original staff work that was presented to the planning commission," said Derickson. "The findings the planning commission are recommending to the board of commissioners did not change the community development department's position on the original recommendation."

Rohse's report actually lists seven NorthernStar requests that the county staff says should be denied:

? Issue a conditional-use permit for dredging in the Aquatic Conservation 2 Zone (AC-2);

? Rezone 46.1 acres from AC-2 to Aquatic Development, a zoning designation that allows dredging;

? Rezone 5.35 acres of wetlands from Aquatic Natural (AN) to Marine Industrial (MI);

? Find the proposed development to be small- to medium-sized, consistent with provisions in county law that limit the scale of development at Bradwood;

? Amend the county law to delete provisions that limit industrial development at Bradwood to small- to medium-sized marine industrial plants;

? Find that the application complies with Statewide Planning Goal 16 on protecting estuarine resources; and

? Find that the application satisfies all applicable standards.

Denial of these seven requests would quash NorthernStar's proposal, which just entered the final stage of the federal permitting process with the release of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's draft environmental impact statement last month.

But, as the planning commission findings show, interpretation of county law will be a key factor in the final decision on the land-use application.

For example, the planning commission decided NorthernStar's dredging proposal, which will involve removing 700,000 cubic yards of sediment from about 46 acres of an "aquatic conservation" zone, is a "minor navigational improvement" that is allowed to provide access to "permitted uses" such as an LNG terminal berth, which is not permitted in an AC zone but is permitted in the Aquatic Development zone nearby.

The county staff disagreed, saying the law specifies dredging is allowed in the AC zone to provide access only for certain uses, and an LNG terminal berth is not one of them.

"The word (minor) clearly is intended to limit the phrase 'navigational improvements,'" Rohse states. "The planning commission's interpretation amounts to a zoning text amendment that would allow all navigational improvements, regardless of their size, in the AC-2 Zone."

The purpose of the AC-2 zone is to "conserve, protect, maintain or enhance natural resources and ... not cause 'major alterations' to the estuary," Rohse said, citing a state law. "We conclude that extensive dredging does not conserve, protect, maintain or enhance natural resources and will cause major alterations to the estuary."

He also noted that NorthernStar's plans to mitigate the damage to natural habitat is "not relevant" to the decision to permit dredging in a "conservation" zone.


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