Warrenton - An appeal of the city of Warrenton's decision to rezone land to accommodate a liquefied natural gas facility will be heard in Salem May 18 - and the location, along with the reasoning behind it, has upset some LNG opponents who wanted the Land Use Board of Appeals hearing to be held locally.
"A lot of people want to see these arguments in front of neutral decision-makers, and a lot of people won't be able to go down to Salem," said Brett VandenHeuvel, attorney for People for Responsible Prosperity and Columbia Riverkeeper, who filed the appeal.
The state land-use court, which occasionally holds hearings outside of the capital, had proposed holding the hearing in Warrenton, VandenHeuvel said. But he said he received a letter from LUBA saying that executives of Skipanon Natural Gas, the potential developer of the LNG facility who are defending the rezoning decision at the hearing, didn't want to have the meeting in Warrenton.
VandenHeuvel said he asked representatives of Skipanon Natural Gas to reconsider, "because so many people are passionate about this in Warrenton and Astoria," he said. "If they're for it or against it, they should have the right to watch it."
There are a number of reasons the energy company didn't want the hearing in Warrenton, said Calpine's Vice President for Development Peter Hansen. Skipanon Natural Gas is a subsidiary of Calpine. He said the hearing "is a legal proceeding, it is not a show."
"It is not a proceeding that lends itself well to public input of that sort," Hansen said. He added that at the recent Department of Energy forum in Astoria, opponents were "more interested in making noise and showing their signs than they were about getting the facts."
Another reason the company didn't want the hearing in Warrenton was to limit the amount of money it has to spend to pay for the lawyers' travels to Warrenton and back, he said.
VandenHeuvel said that in an e-mail correspondence, a Calpine attorney told him the company didn't want to have a Warrenton hearing because previous meetings in the city had a hostile environment that caused the city to ask for a police presence.
VandenHeuvel said that he found the energy company's reasons for objecting to a Warrenton hearing "very offensive," and added that even though people were passionate about the LNG issue, the LUBA proceeding wouldn't be a public forum, but a court hearing. In these hearings, the lawyers present their sides to three LUBA board members, who then ask the lawyers questions. No public comment is taken.
Carol Parker, Warrenton's planning director, said that the city is neutral on where the hearing is held.
"We're OK with whatever LUBA wanted to do. It's LUBA's decision, not ours," she said. However, the community center where a hearing could be held was already booked for the date, she said.
She added that while there was no violence at prior hearings, "there were perceptions of becoming unruly." The city asked the police to come to prior LNG-related meetings, she said, "just to make sure that emotions did not get out of hand."