Clatsop County staff has recommended that Hearings Officer Peter Livingston deny a land-use application to put 41 miles of pipeline through the county for the Oregon LNG liquefied natural gas project.
A public hearing for Oregon Pipeline LLC's consolidated land use application began Thursday in Astoria. The proposed pipeline is 121 miles long and would connect to a natural gas hub in Molalla. Of this, 41 miles would cross through Clatsop County at a slant, running in a southeasterly direction from Warrenton, crossing seven different zoning designations and three special overlay zones.
According to the county, natural gas pipelines are allowed in those zones as outright permitted uses or conditional uses.
The primary issue Clatsop County staff had with Oregon Pipeline's application was that the company's process was not clear, especially where the company plans to send the pipeline under Columbia River estuary waters.
Keith Jones, a consultant for the county with Harper Houf Peterson Righellis Inc., a consulting firm based in Portland, Vancouver, Wash., and Bend, said they did not feel the impacts on the estuary (and elsewhere) had been completely illustrated.
The company proved they have enough information, he said, but not that they've completed a thorough analysis.
Mike Connors, who works for Oregon Pipeline, said there was some confusion over the county's code requirements. From what he understood, the county was asking for an impact assessment, but, he said, this is not required under the county's Comprehensive Plan and the Land, Water, and Development Ordinance. However, the company provided more information anyway.
The company sent the additional information on the pipeline's impacts to Livingston and county staff in a letter-type document dated June 9. The county did not have time to review this before the hearing.
Clatsop County Planner Jennifer Bunch said it became apparent during the hearing that the county and the company were talking about two different things: impact statement (analysis) versus impact assessment.
It appears to be a fine difference, Bunch said. "We'll talk about this and figure it out," she said.
"That is an issue that has to be resolved," said Ed Wegner, county land use planning director, who said the county does require an impact statement.
The county also concluded the project did not comply with several goals laid out in the staff report, including the completion of a geotechnical report and impact assessment, natural hazards concerns (specifically policies to deal with erosion and shoreline stabilization), and the line the route cuts through some existing properties.
The company had originally said the route would follow existing easements, rights-of-way and property lines, county staff said in the staff report. A map, however, shows the route cutting straight through and there has been no documentation that supports the company's original claim, staff said during the hearing.
"It's not as if a lot of thought hasn't been put in about where to route (the pipe)," Connors said. With development on the scale proposed by Oregon Pipeline, though, he added, "there isn't any development that avoids any impact."
Oregon Pipeline is part of a suite of companies that make up Oregon LNG, which is funded by the New York holding company, Leucadia National Inc. Oregon LNG has proposed developing an?LNG terminal on the Skipanon Peninsula in Warrenton.
The terminal project would be located within Warrenton's city limits, but is not part of the pipeline land-use application.
As has been the tradition with any public hearing involving LNG, the main meeting room at the Judge Guy Boyington Building was crammed with people.
Many of those in opposition to the Oregon LNG project had testified against the NorthernStar LNG project earlier this year.
At this hearing, they were concerned primarily with the proposed route the pipeline would take, how this would affect property values and public safety issues.
Hans Mulder, assistant fire chief with the Elsie-Vinemaple Rural Fire District, was the only person to testify during time reserved for state agency reports.
The fire district's concerns weren't as much about how the pipe went in, but what would happen after it was in place, he said.
"A natural gas pipeline poses huge risks," Mulder said. Risks that the district, staffed entirely by volunteers, is not ready to take on. They lack both the equipment and the training to deal with explosions or fires resulting from a burst pipe, he said.
The fire district officially covers around 30 square miles. In reality, the coverage is more like 500 square miles since they answer calls in the forestry land as well.
Access to water is just the beginning of the problems Mulder foresees. If a problem happens down by the river, firefighters could simply pump the river. But if something happens farther in, perhaps in more isolated areas, the district will have to bring the water with them.
"If it blows up, it's not just going to be fire," Mulder said. It's going to be a big boom that could take down trees and houses, he said.
There was not enough time to hear all the testimony so Livingston announced that the hearing will continue June 25, starting at 5 p.m. at the Judge Guy Boyington Building, 857 Commercial St., Astoria.
If all the testimony is heard at that time and the company and county staff also have time to respond, the hearing will close.
If not all the testimony is heard, a third session would be held July 8 at 1 p.m. at the Judge Guy Boyington Building.
Written comments may be submitted to the Community Development Office at 800 Exchange St., Astoria.
The entire application and accompanying documents are available on the Clatsop County website, (www.co.clatsop.or.us). The application file can also be viewed at the Transportation and Development Services office, 800 Exchange St., Suite 100 during normal business hours.