Clatsop County's notice of four hearings on eight new applications from liquefied natural gas developer Bradwood Landing didn't fully explain the plan for taking public testimony.
On Tuesday, a hearings officer will begin the process of deciding whether to approve all eight applications with a hearing from 1 to 5 p.m. in the Judge Guy Boyington Building, 800 Exchange St., in Astoria.
But the additional hearings listed in the county's public notice were intended to be held only as needed to continue Tuesday's proceeding. If four hours aren't enough to hear everyone, the hearing will be continued from 3 to 7 p.m. Thursday at the same location. Two potential hearing dates are scheduled for 3 to 7 p.m. April 13, and April 15.
Brett VandenHeuvel, executive director for the LNG opponent group Columbia Riverkeeper, said he and many others thought the public could show up to testify at any of the four hearing dates announced.
Actually, everyone who wants to testify needs to come and sign up Tuesday or Thursday, according to county counsel Jeff Bennett of Landye Bennett Blumstein in Portland. The hearings will only continue as long as it takes to hear everyone who signed up.
"The notice wasn't clear," Bennett said. "It listed four hearing dates, but the hearings officer is not necessarily going to sit there for four hours each day. The hearing will start on (Tuesday) and will take as long as it takes to make sure everybody is heard."
Some have already voiced complaints that the public was misled.
"If this schedule is changed, it will be a grave injustice to proper and adequate public review of the proposed Bradwood Landing applications," Knappa resident Teresa DeLorenzo wrote in an e-mail to county officials.
Will Caplinger, Clatsop County development services manager, wrote her back explaining an amended public notice the county filed today.
"The amended notice does reference a single hearing, which is the proper way in which to notice a hearing that will start on a specific date and time and that we anticipate will be continued to dates certain," he wrote.
Caplinger said the first meeting will probably only allow enough time for around 30 minutes of opening remarks, and a few hours for presentation of staff reports and possibly presentations by Bradwood and Columbia Riverkeeper at about 30 minutes each.
"We assume that public comment will not actually begin until the second meeting,"?he wrote, "and the hearings officer will continue the hearing as necessary. Our amending of the notice is in no way intended to limit public comment."
Bradwood Landing's supplemental applications were required by Clatsop County's March 2008 conditional approval of the company's proposed LNG terminal and associated facilities at Bradwood Landing 25 miles east of Astoria.
Those supplemental applications cover the Shoreline Monitoring Plan, Dredge Material Disposal Plan, Park-and-Ride Plan, Mitigation Plan, Clifton and Bradwood Road Improvements Conditional Use Permit, Decommissioning Plan, Riparian Vegetation Restoration Plan, and Erosion and Sediment Control Plan.
The county decided to have a hearings officer decide whether the plans meet local land-use laws instead of calling upon the Clatsop County Planning Commission.
The contracted hearings officer will be Peter Livingston - an attorney with Schwabe Williamson & Wyatt PC of Portland, who Caplinger said has "a phenomenal track record" and is impartial on the issue of LNG. The cost of the contract is not to exceed $30,000 through the end of June and will be paid by Bradwood Landing project developer NorthernStar Natural Gas Inc. of Houston.
While the hearings officer will make the first decision on all eight permits, Caplinger said, and the decision can be appealed to the board of commissioners and to the Oregon Land?Use Board of?Appeals after that.
A hearings officer was hired from Portland "because of the complexity and the sensitivity of this project and its applications,"?Caplinger said. "If you have someone with very specific legal background and land-use law background, you're going to have a much more erudite and defensible position for any of these decisions."
Caplinger said the decisions are likely to be appealed no matter which way they go, and then they will go "under a microscope."
NorthernStar can't break ground at Bradwood Landing until all land-use appeals have been exhausted.
Residents are invited to express their opinion about the eight new proposals in person at the hearings or by letter addressed to the Clatsop County Hearings Officer, 800 Exchange St., Suite 100, Astoria OR 97103. Written comments must be received by 5 p.m. today.
A copy of the applications, all documents and evidence submitted by or on behalf of the applicant may be reviewed in the Clatsop County Transportation and Development Services - Land Use Planning Office, 800 Exchange St., Suite 100, Astoria at no cost, and copies may be obtained at reasonable cost.
The staff reports for these applications may be inspected at no cost or copies obtained at reasonable cost seven days prior to the hearings.
For more information go to the "Bradwood Landing Supplemental Applications" page under "Land Use Planning" at (www.co.clatsop.or.us)