NorthernStar Natural Gas rounded up the usual suspects - regulatory red tape and skittish investors - as it walked away from its Bradwood Landing LNG import terminal. Observers might be forgiven for smiling in recognition of the technique perfected by Capt. Renault in Casablanca.
Conceived in go-go days of pre-recession economic expansion, Bradwood was part of a competing set of LNG proposals in Oregon, the others being in Coos Bay and on Port of Astoria property in Warrenton. NorthernStar bowed out Tuesday afternoon by issuing a press release and filing for bankruptcy. Clatsop County government will be stiffed for some $180,000 in unpaid legal fees.
In handicapping this marathon, Bradwood had a mix of pluses and minuses. It made a game effort to sweeten its odds with promises to spend money improving salmon habitat. But the underlying concept of placing a large industrial facility at the far end of a country road on an isolated riverbank was inherently flawed.
It may be that Oregon and federal authorities based here are especially protective of endangered salmon. This is no wonder, considering all the time and money spent on their restoration, not to mention our intense cultural affinity for fishing and interest in preserving our own habitat.
None of this should have come as a surprise to NorthernStar, nor to the Clatsop County commissioners who allowed their enthusiasm for big money to overwhelm rational thought. The Bradwood soap opera has demonstrated what happens when large amounts of (Texas) money are injected into a small rural place. A number of local players - some elected, some unelected - indulged in silly and bad behavior.
The Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals did precisely what it is supposed to do. LUBA examined whether Bradwood really passed muster with state industrial siting rules. It did not, despite the shenanigans in the Clatsop County Courthouse.
For NorthernStar to now sourly lament its lack of success with LUBA is like an uninvited house guest loudly complaining when the homeowner refuses to go along with construction of a backyard-brick barbecue in the middle of the living room.
The Oregonian this morning chose to ignore the cheap chicanery in our courthouse and proclaim that the Bradwood project's demise says something bad about Oregon's regulatory process and environmental zeal. On the contrary. If our county commissioners had played it straight from the start, two years could have been cut from this epic.
Bradwood's trajectory should provide LNG opponents and the companies still in this contest - Oregon LNG in Warrenton and Jordan Cove Energy Project in Coos Bay - with some guidance. Oregon is not Texas. Some of us expect compliance with our laws. Clatsop County residents will not be treated as ignorant villagers ripe for colonization.
The world of Big Energy is rife with speculation that promises enormous profit. The Bradwood project was all about the margin that would be gained by flipping the LNG terminal. As a state, we already should have been sobered by the crash of Enron and what that did to Portland General Electric employees. We should have been sobered by the crash of the giant nuclear-building program of the Washington Public Power Supply System and its huge municipal bond bankruptcy. And in the Gulf of Mexico we may observe the especially hazardous side of Big Energy.
LUBA deserves thanks for its reality check. Skeptics, including Columbia Riverkeeper and the National Marine Fisheries Service, deserve thanks for insisting that rules be followed.
The Oregonian has suggested that this was not a regulatory process, but (heavens to Betsy!) "a political process." Of course it was, and on both sides. And in this situation, ordinary Oregonians and some residents of southwest Washington refused to be bullied or bought off. In 2010, that is both surprising and heartening.