RiverVision meetings seek to inform community on feared dangers of constructing a gas plant near the riverThe best ways to stop liquefied natural gas terminals from being built along the Columbia River were debated at the second RiverVision community meeting, where attendees also heard an update on the Port Westward facility and a primer on the geology of the Skipanon Peninsula.
More than 75 people packed into the Flag Room of the Astor Public Library for Wednesday evening's meeting. Tammy Maygra, of Save Our Columbia River, asked the crowd for support in the group's efforts in Columbia County, where Port Westward LNG LLC, is planning to build a liquefied natural gas receiving terminal just north of Clatskanie.
"The report isn't too good from upriver," Maygra said. She had talked with the Columbia County commissioners Wednesday morning, and said she didn't think they were receptive to her concerns. One commissioner told her the commission wouldn't do anything until members had an official proposal in front of them.
Because Clatskanie is an economically depressed area, the idea of bringing jobs to the area is appealing, Maygra said, but she said she doubts many locals will receive highly specialized jobs at an LNG facility.
She added that she had tried to arrange a meeting with Port Westward LNG chief executive officer Spiro Vassilopoulos in early November, but she hadn't heard from the company since then.
There are people in Clatskanie who oppose the project, but many are still in the dark, Maygra reported. She said she is trying to organize meetings, and would appreciate people coming upriver to help or writing to the commissioners.
"I just feel that it's right that the public knows what's going on," Maygra said.
Geologist Tom Horning of Seaside discussed what's underneath the Skipanon Peninsula in Warrenton, where energy company Calpine Corp. has also proposed building a LNG receiving terminal
"The Skipanon Peninsula is just the top layer of about 375 feet of very young sediment in the Columbia River Canyon," Horning said. The last ice age, which ended 18,000 years ago, had scraped away the area where Warrenton is now.
Because much of the globe was covered in ice, sea level was 400 feet lower. As the ice melted, the sea level rose, and the Columbia River deposited sand, gravel, silt and mud to shape the river as we know it.
When an earthquake hits, either from the major Cascadia fault offshore or from some of the smaller local faults such as the one running under the Columbia, the seismic waves would slow down and get stronger in the layers of sediment under Warrenton.
The shaking could cause liquefaction, where the sand grains change position and start behaving like a liquid in the top layer. Or, pieces of land could slide off into the river.
However, these are issues that engineers deal with in other seismically active areas, and there are ways to design buildings to withstand these forces, Horning said.
"The question is, will they engineer this thing good enough to make it safe?" he said.
Although known issues can be dealt with, said architect Tom Bender, "We don't know everything." The science of designing earthquake-proof buildings changes after every major quake, and Bender questioned whether the area can risk the facility being destroyed because of information scientists and engineers don't yet know.
In a presentation to the group, Bender summarized some of his main concerns with LNG facilities. What makes more sense, he said, was to increase energy efficiency and focus on renewable energy sources.
Importing energy from unstable countries like Indonesia can never produce a secure source of energy, he said. The terminals could be a terrorist target, and the tankers filled with LNG contain many times more energy than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, he said.
Bender also said that the exclusion zones around the tankers could hold other ships at the bar, and the Astoria airport may have to shut down because a flight path is close to where tankers would dock.
"We have to get together what our position is, and keep hammering away" to convince people, Bender said.
Deborah McEuen said that many who support these projects do so because they like the idea of more jobs and tax revenue, so the group should focus on disproving these angles. Peter Huhtala said that all the attendees needed to go "preach to the non-converted," since there is a diverse group of people opposed with a diverse group of concerns.
Bob Lowe pointed out that there was only one elected official at the meeting, and said that they need to determine how they can directly affect the political process.
The elected official, Jerome Arnold of the Clatsop County Soil and Water Conservation District, said that the group should find out how Calpine is calculating the potential hazards of the facility, and check their work for flaws. Joal Morris suggested that attorneys start looking for possible legal angles.
RiverVision organizer Rose Priven called for volunteers to help set up a Web site and join the steering committee.
The next RiverVision meeting will be Feb. 23.