Oregon Pipeline Route a Shock to Landowners

Waldo Lake in Oregon.

COOS BAY, Ore. (CN) — Oregon property owners complained to federal regulators Monday that they were kept in the dark about a proposal to build a natural-gas pipeline on their land.

If approved, the 230-mile pipeline in southern Oregon would haul natural gas through migratory bird habitat and old-growth forests, where endangered marbled murrelets nest, to a new export terminal in a pristine bay. From there, it would be shipped to buyers in China.

Pembina, the Canadian company behind the terminal, won’t disclose the identity of those buyers, but says it has submitted the information to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. If built, commission documents show Jordan Cove would spew nearly 2 million tons of carbon dioxide each year, making it Oregon’s largest emitter of the greenhouse gas.

The commission released a draft environmental impact statement in March that recommended changing the pipeline route from the one Pembina requested in its 2017 application to one that would cross fewer lakes, rivers and streams.

At a public hearing before the commission Monday that saw testimony on the draft plan from 185 people, two landowners said they didn’t know about the change until Maya Jarrad with the anti-pipeline group No Jordan Cove LNG reached out to them.

Audra Ashcraft was on the original route, and the alternate route proposed by the commission would run through Ron Foord’s back yard.

Jarrad said she called about 30 landowners whose property was on the route proposed in the draft plan.

“I had to call all these people and say, ‘You’re on the pipeline,’” Jarrad said. “That’s not a very fun call to make.”

Foord, Ashcraft and other landowners won’t know for sure if they’re on the route until the commission releases the final environmental impact statement in August. Neither owner has signed easement agreements with Pembina and both are fighting the project. If they refuse Pembina’s money, the government could use the process of eminent domain to gain access to the land of resistant owners. In the meantime, Coos County has issued land-use permits for both routes.

Pembina says it prefers the original route it requested in its permit application and has communicated fully with landowners. But it didn’t want to inform them of a change that was not certain.

“The preferred route is the one in the permit,” Pembina spokesman Paul Vogel said. “Just because another one was suggested, for us to go out and start telling people and trying to take action on that would be more confusing to everyone. Only if forced to do that proposed alternate route would we revisit it and pursue easements about that route.”

Megan Foord grew up on her family’s 80 forested acres in Coos County. She said it was wrenching for her family to hear the news secondhand, instead of having it come from Pembina or the government agency.

“My heart just sank, because we thought we were in the clear,” Foord said. “It was devastating to feel like we were going to have to fight this huge company. I just felt like they were being really sneaky.”

Pembina insists that its goal is voluntary easement agreements with every landowner on the pipeline’s path. Vogel said the company has tried to negotiate fairly with landowners. But if voluntary agreements are not possible, Vogel said, eminent domain is on the table.

“If you get right down to it, that tool is always there,” Vogel said Monday. “But we really don’t want to do it.”

Public hearings will continue over the next three days in other counties where the proposed pipeline would run: in Myrtle Creek, Medford and Klamath Falls.

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