Warrenton - Calpine Corp. and its subsidiary, Skipanon Natural Gas LLC, won a crucial battle Tuesday night in their quest to locate a liquefied natural gas import terminal at the tip of the Skipanon peninsula in Warrenton on land owned by the Port of Astoria.
The company has already submitted an application for a zoning change, which is the next step in the process.
At issue at a contentious public hearing held by the Warrenton City Commission was whether an LNG facility should be considered a marine cargo transfer facility - and therefore a permitted use - in an area zoned water-dependent industrial shorelands (I-2). The location for the proposed LNG facility is zoned Urban Resort Recreation. Calpine has requested a zoning change to I-2.
The commission vote was 4 to 1 in favor of upholding an earlier planning commission decision in favor of Calpine, and denying an appeal by People for Responsible Prosperity, a group that opposes LNG facilities on the Lower Columbia.
Commissioner Mark Kujala cast the lone dissenting vote at the meeting at the Warrenton Community Center.
Only one member of the audience, Kirk Deal of the pile drivers' union, spoke in favor of Calpine at the hearing, which lasted almost three hours. "I'm a dock builder," he said, and pointed to the jobs that will be created by an LNG facility, during construction and after it is in operation.
About a dozen people gave opposing testimony, some of it very emotional, including David Shannon and Rose Priven, representing People for Responsible Prosperity.
Shannon, who gave a Power Point presentation, said the I-2 zone was never intended to allow a "hazardous operation" when it was created, pointing out that even a marine fuel facility was made a conditional use in that zone. "You have a decision to make that may be the most important in Warrenton's history," Shannon said.
In five or eight years, "You will either be heroes or villains to your neighbors," he said. "There will be no energy benefit at all to this town," he went on, saying Seattle and San Francisco will reap any benefits. "It's time we focus on what's good for us," Shannon said, to a round of applause.
Rose Priven questioned the commission's vision for Warrenton in the next 10 to 30 years, saying most civic leaders want their small towns to either stay the same or get better. "They don't usually say, 'Hey, let's turn over our valuable waterfront land for a monstrous gas plant."
Carol Wright, whose home is less than two miles from the proposed LNG facility, was most concerned about hazards to residents. "If there's an explosion, I imagine it would level us. I don't think a plant is suitable for the middle of town," she said.
Gail Galen, who lives at Cullaby Lake, said it would be nice if the city of Warrenton had the resources to hire a law firm like Calpine does. "We are operating on blood, sweat and tears."
She said the city code's intent is to protect the citizens of Warrenton and many more people speak against an LNG facility at every meeting. "I wonder, who do you represent?" she asked the commission, saying it seemed commissioners had already made their decision. "We have friends in Iraq fighting for a representative democracy. I'd like to have one here," Galen said. The crowd applauded loudly.
Several other people spoke, all in opposition.
Mark Whitlow, the attorney representing Calpine, said the people opposing the facility were raising the same issues that had already been raised. "We're not here to create a new process. Your process is adequate." He asked to be treated equally with other applicants, a remark greeted with loud derision by many.
He also accused opponents of using delaying tactics. "Delay is the land-use or 'land-abuse' game," he said. "It's a huge investment with a huge risk," Whitlow said.
"Only one horse will cross the line," he said, referring to three other LNG projects proposed for the region, and Warrenton could lose the opportunity. Some members of the audience loudly accused him of making threats.
Helena Par-Lenc, who had already testified, left the room after Mayor Gil Gramson repeatedly asked her to sit down and wait for another turn to speak. When Gramson declared the public hearing over, Wright shouted out that Gramson was stopping public input. Gramson told her she was out of order.
After the hearing, Gramson said it was a very difficult decision. He said he and other commissioners had concerns about Calpine's plans and wanted to be sure those concerns would be addressed and that the commission would have some control over the development. He said he wasn't able to get the information during the hearing, but said it would be available during the zone change process.
Kujala, who voted against the code interpretation approving an LNG terminal as a marine cargo transfer facility, had made a motion to keep the record open for another week. That motion died for lack of a second.
"My question was is this something we want to consider as a conditional use, because we certainly do have conditions and we have concerns ... I felt it was something we should explore at this time rather than waiting until they look for a zone change. Because if it's an outright use, it seems to me it would be more difficult to go back and impose those conditions," Kujala said.
Calpine's request for a zone change is tentatively scheduled for the Oct. 12 meeting of the Warrenton Planning Commission.