Oregon LNG refiled a legal complaint against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Wednesday to secure property on Warrenton’s Skipanon Peninsula, where the energy company wants to build a liquefied natural gas facility but where the Corps holds an easement to deposit dredging spoils.
Oregon LNG said in a release that the move is to “maintain its legal options,” and that the company is “confident we can resolve this issue in a constructive manner.”
In a modified version of the complaint Oregon LNG withdrew last week, the company alleges that around 2002, the Army Corps, “expressly and unequivocally” relinquished the easement property and any right or title to, or interest in, the property “as documented by a person with appropriate authority” to abandon it.
The company claims that, from 2004 to 2009, the Army Corps knew of the energy company’s intention to develop the facility, participated in the development process, but did not reassert its ownership claim on the property until 2009.
The government agency has held the easement since 1957 but hasn’t used the site to deposit dredging spoils since 1992.
Oregon LNG states that the new filing is “responsive to the findings and recommendations” by Magistrate Judge John V. Acosta, who ruled against Oregon LNG last month in a lawsuit the company filed against the Army Corps. The company sought to prove that the Corps had effectively abandoned the easement property, which covers land Oregon LNG has leased from the Port of Astoria since 2004.
Acosta wrote that Oregon LNG “did not clearly manifest its intent to abandon its interest in the subject property,” and that the supporting documentation did not come from a person of appropriate authority, a criteria that the company now claims it has satisfied.
Before Acosta’s decision could be signed by a federal district court judge, Oregon LNG nixed the case, which Acosta dismissed “without prejudice” — a judgment that allowed Oregon LNG to take another shot at the “abandonment” approach.
In August, Acosta dismissed the company’s first complaint against the Corps — a complaint based on the claim that the Corps had no right to the land beneath the water where the proposed terminal would be built. But the statute of limitations to bring that claim under federal law had long expired, so the company shifted emphasis to the new claim that the Corps abandoned interest in the easement property.
The Army Corps could not immediately be reached for comment, but Columbia Riverkeeper — a Hood River-based environmental group opposing Oregon LNG’s $6 billion terminal and pipeline project — was taken aback by the company’s decision to relitigate the case.
Miles Johnson, a clean water attorney for the environmental group, said the company’s arguments in the new filing are “almost exactly the arguments that Oregon LNG tried to make in the previous case which Judge Acosta dismissed as ‘substantively futile.’”
“I don’t know quite what Oregon LNG is driving at,” he said.
Dan Serres, the group’s conservation director, called the company’s behavior “bizarre.”
“I mean, they’ve received two negative opinions from a magistrate judge, and one from (a federal district court) judge, and they’re still pushing this dead-end issue,” Serres said. “It doesn’t make any sense.”