The decisions about whether to build one or more liquefied natural gas (LNG) import facilities in the Columbia River estuary will have far-reaching consequences.

Many other communities in this country have rejected similar proposals because the local populations decided that the risk to life and property outweighed the enticement of promised jobs. Other communities foresaw the conflict between the import of fossil fuels from foreign nations and maintaining industries like fishing and tourism. They chose to support their traditional economy and seek safe, clean, measured growth.

I can't say for sure where the values of our lower Columbia River communities would come down on this controversial issue. But, unfortunately in the case of the Calpine Corp. bid to build one of these plants at the mouth of the Skipanon River, the chance for early public input has been stolen. The Port of Astoria, after nonpublic discussions with other elected officials, entered into a long-term lease with Calpine, allowing the energy company to begin the permitting process. Apparently the politicians thought they had a mandate to decide what was best for us.

They were wrong.

Siting a terrorist target next to an airport is ridiculous planning. The exclusion zones around tankers crossing the Columbia River bar at least four times a week would inconvenience or destroy fisheries, like the famous Buoy 10 salmon opening. The conflicting government reports estimate the risk of high temperature pool fires or choking vapor clouds. What's at stake right now is a loss of confidence in local government.

The Port of Astoria Commission and every Clatsop County Commissioner and City Councilor that had prior knowledge of the Calpine Corp. proposal now has an ethical problem. Why did none of these individuals insist that the public be allowed a chance for adequate review and hearing before a lease was signed? Did they believe that citizens should not be allowed to debate such a major public policy decision?

Calpine's attempt to build a similar LNG plant in Humboldt County, Calif., was thwarted because local officials refused to cede control of property before the citizens and businesses of the area had a chance to fully express their views. One can see why the corporation manipulated our elected representatives to make sure that didn't happen here.

What is difficult to understand is why the public interest was not defended by those to whom it was entrusted.

Peter Huhtala



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