A new group comprised of business- minded locals, the Warrenton Area Business Owners Alliance, recently formed and has begun meeting to discuss possible solutions for the downturn in the local economy.
Ed Bussert, the group's founder, said that he started the group after being laid off as a car salesperson when the auto-industry started to decline. He decided to survey local businesses on their current economic status and possible solutions that could help everybody.
"What I found was that times are tough, individuals are concerned and tourism will no longer cut it as the driving force in our economy," said Bussert.
This is when Bussert came across Oregon LNG, a company proposing to build a liquefied natural gas terminal in Warrenton. The facility would be an off-loading site for LNG arriving by ship, then converted into natural gas and transported via a pipeline that connects with a regional pipeline hub in Molalla, Ore. Oregon LNG is one of two companies attempting to locate an LNG terminal in the lower Columbia River. NorthernStar Natural Gas is also attempting to site and build a similar facility 38 miles east of Astoria at Bradwood.
"I had always heard the negative press on LNG but hadn't ever followed either side that closely," he said. "What I found was a private company that wanted to come into our community and construct a $1.3 billion facility and wasn't asking for tax breaks. This would give the various taxing agencies over $9 million a year, and create more than 500 construction jobs throughout a five-year period with over 5 million man-hours of labor."
He decided to bring his findings to the local businesses with which he had been discussing the current economic climate. Although not everybody was initially in support of bringing LNG to the region, the group began meeting more formally, weighing the pros and cons of LNG, and discussing the differences between the NorthernStar and Oregon LNG projects.
"A big pro is that the Oregon LNG site would be closer to the mouth of the Columbia River and the pipeline wouldn't have to go under the bridge," he said. "Also, the jobs created by the NorthernStar project would most likely be split between people east of the project site and people west of it. The jobs created by Oregon LNG would have better chances of staying within the community."
On top of the 500 construction jobs, he said it is projected that around 75 fulltime positions would be created when the project is complete.
"The jobs created would earn an average of $65,000 a year plus benefits," he said. "Oregon LNG has made it clear that they will hire within the community because it is cheaper for them to train new employees than relocate old ones."
Currently working as a reserve police officer, and in the past as a volunteer firefighter, Bussert noted that the $1 million in annual tax dollars that the city of Warrenton would collect could go a long way in funding the public safety positions that have been lost recently.
"I know that LNG might not be the best solution, or the only solution, but we need to start stabilizing our own economy so that we can begin to see a light at the end of the tunnel," he said. "The amount Oregon LNG would spend is six-and-a-half times the Oregon stimulus package," Bussert noted.
Although the group is currently focused on the Oregon LNG project, they are also looking at other ways to help the economy. One such project would bring the aircraft carrier "The Ranger" from the movie "Top Gun" to the area. The ship would be put on display in an attempt to boost tourism.
The Oregon LNG project is currently awaiting approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
The Warrenton Area Business Owners Alliance has met several times over the last month with attendance ranging from 20 to 30 people. The group has received support from over 60 businesses.
For more information about the alliance contact Ed Bussert at (503)298-3558.