Deputy Chief Administrative Law Judge Bobbie McCartney presided over an unusual court proceeding in Astoria Wednesday designed to collect testimony on Oregon LNG's treatment of landowners along its proposed 117-mile pipeline route.
About a dozen people, several who live along the pipeline route in Warrenton and Jewell, attended the event at the Judge Guy Boyington Building and testified about their negative experiences with the company.
When their testimony was through, Oregon LNG CEO Peter Hansen responded to the complaints.
The fact-finding hearing, one of three being held this week in Oregon, was initiated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the agency that oversees the permitting process for liquefied natural gas developments. Oregon LNG has proposed a $1 billion LNG import terminal on the Skipanon Peninsula in Warrenton with a natural gas transmission pipeline that would run south through Warrenton and then southeast to a gas hub in Molalla. Landowners along the pipeline route have repeatedly complained that the company has misled and pressured them into allowing the pipeline to be built across their property. Hansen says the company is trying to find the best route for the pipeline and is willing to work with cooperative landowners.
McCartney is taking testimony this week from people with pertinent information about the company's conduct with landowners, and she plans to have a report on her conclusions by June 1.
She took 20 minutes at the outset of the proceeding to decode "legalese" and explain her fact-finding process, which she called a "hybrid" of a town hall meeting and an adversarial "Perry Mason" court hearing. She took testimony from witnesses under oath, and Oregon LNG, accused of misconduct with landowners, was not allowed to object or cross-examine the witnesses. However, the company could submit questions and requests to the judge on paper for her to consider.
Oregon LNG has protested the proceeding and asked for a more formal hearing where the company could respond directly to the witness testimony. McCartney said the company had to file the protest to preserve its appeal rights, but she decided to make the hearing less formal, leaving all the company's rebuttals for the end.
Landowners who spoke complained that the Oregon LNG pipeline would devalue their land, and that they couldn't find out exactly where the pipeline was going. Some told of negative encounters with company representatives or explained how a lack of information was causing them headaches.
Jay Kiddle, who owns property in Warrenton, said he got a letter from the company saying his land was either part of the pipeline route or the alternate route, and he couldn't figure out which one it was. He's put off selling his property until the question is resolved.
"I called for more information, and I was told that it's proprietary," he said. "The actual pipeline route wouldn't be released."
McCartney asked Oregon LNG to send Kiddle a letter telling him whether his property is going to be impacted.
Astorian and LNG opponent Lori Durheim spoke about Oregon LNG's dealings with the Port of Astoria, arguably a landowner at the proposed LNG terminal site.
"I have been attending the Port of Astoria's twice a month regularly scheduled meetings, any open houses and special meetings continuously since 2006," Durheim said. "As far as I've witnessed, it seems to me that Oergon LNG muscled, manipulated, strong-armed and, yes, blackmailed the Port to sign the Oregon Department of State Lands lease for the 92 acres on the Skipanon Peninsula."
Norma Ellis of Jewell said she hasn't heard from the company since they told her they could use eminent domain to claim a right of way through her property.
She said the map she saw two years ago showed the pipeline going right down the center of her acreage, where her home currently sits.
"I feel I'm being snowballed and all of a sudden everything will be done," she said. "I'm a little old to be moving, and I don't like the thought of this pipeline devaluing my property."
Hansen says opponents' strategies of keeping surveyors off their property may work against them in the pipeline planning process. The more information the company has on a piece of property along the route, the better it can plan around obstacles.
He denies the misconduct accusations, calling them "absolutely baseless."