ASTORIA, Ore. (CN) - Advocates of local land use planning and those opposed to increasing the use of fossil fuels won a victory this week when a Clatsop County judge issued a letter of opinion saying he can't force the county to approve a proposed liquified natural gas pipeline.
Oregon Pipeline Company wants to build the controversial 40-mile pipeline to connect a proposed natural gas terminal on the banks of the Columbia River with a transmission pipeline in the interior of the state. Columbia Riverkeeper, an environmental group that is leading the charge to stop the pipeline, claims on its website that the project would "rip across" Oregon's forests, wetlands and farms in order to send most of the gas to California.
The Clatsop County Board of Commissioners approved the project in November 2010, but Columbia Riverkeeper appealed the decision to the state Land Use Board of Appeals.
While the appeal was pending, three new commissioners, who had campaigned on their opposition to the project, were inaugurated and the newly constituted Board of Commissioners asked to have the case returned to them for reconsideration.
Oregon Pipeline filed suit in March of this year asking the Clatsop County Circuit Court to order the county to approve its land use application because, under state law, local planning authorities have to reach a final decision on land-use applications within 150 days of accepting the application.
The company claimed the new commission's decision to withdraw approval of the project invalidated the finality of the original approval.
Circuit Court Judge Philip Nelson said that although Oregon Pipeline is right about the delay, the commission did issue a final decision approving the project and is entitled to "affirm, modify or reverse its decision."
And there is no set time limit for the reconsideration process, Nelson wrote, noting that the Land Use Board (LUBA) has set the limit for local reconsideration of decisions at 90 days or "within such other time as the board may allow."
Nelson added that he lacked jurisdiction to force the commission to approve the project. In order to grant Oregon Pipeline's request, Nelson said he would "have to disregard those statutes and appellate decisions which place the appeal process of land use decisions exclusively in LUBA's realm."
Earlier this month, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service issued a draft biological opinion finding that the pipeline project would not jeopardize any species considered at-risk under the Endangered Species Act. The project has been approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
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