By Associated Press • 

Gas pipeline supporters claim high support from landowners

Supporters of a proposed natural gas export project on Oregon's southern coast are claiming they've made major headway addressing one of regulators’ biggest concerns as federal regulators take public comments this week.

Pembina Pipeline Corp, the Canadian company that is proposing a liquefied natural gas export terminal in Coos Bay, says it has secured voluntary easement agreements with 82% of the individual landowners along the 229-mile (369-kilometer) route of the terminal's proposed feeder pipeline, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported . Opponents dispute those numbers.

The feeder pipeline for the Jordan Cove export terminal would run from an interstate gas hub in Klamath County to Coos Bay.

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission officials are holding four public comment sessions in Southern Oregon this week on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement. It will be the last round of public feedback on the statement issued by the commission's staff in late March.

The commission is expected to render its decision on the project early next year.

If Pembina's landowner numbers are correct, as the company insists, it marks significant progress from the small percentage that had signed easement agreements when regulators denied the project a license in 2016. That lack of support proved a decisive factor with regulators deciding the previous owner of the project had not demonstrated sufficient public need for the project to overcome the negative impacts on landowners along the pipeline route.

Pembina says they've additionally got the “need” question covered. Officials say they've secured non-binding commitments from potential customers for more than the proposed throughput capacity of the gas terminal. Whether that eventually translates to solid, binding commitments from Asian customers to buy gas remains a question that likely won't be answered unless and until the company has its regulatory approvals in hand.

To build the Pacific Connector Pipeline, Pembina needs temporary construction easements the width of a four-lane highway and a permanent 50-foot right of way for the entire pipeline. That impacts 252 private landowners along the route, including 30 timber companies.

Opponents question the validity of Pembina's numbers and say they've been tracking pipeline easements recorded in the counties along the pipeline route. They concede that Pembina has made progress, but according to their calculations, only 61% of the individual landowners have pipeline easements on their land recorded with county authorities.

“Once you sign that easement, they have to record it, or it's not an easement,” said Stacey McLaughlin, a Myrtle Creek landowner against Jordan Cove. “If Jordan Cove is not recording the information, the easement does not exist, plain and simple.”

Pembina says it has avoided filing all the agreements reached as some landowners want to maintain their privacy and avoid being hassled by project opponents.

“This claim that they are somehow protecting them from their own neighbors, that's absolutely false,” said Deb Evans, a Klamath county landowner who has helped organize opposition. “We don't hassle landowners.”

Opponents also accuse the company of using hardball tactics and intimidation to force reluctant landowners to sign easements, and specifically targeting vulnerable and elderly landowners with threats of eminent domain.

Harry Anderson, senior vice president of external affairs and chief legal officer for Pembina, said the company has taken a different approach than its predecessor, Veresen, which Pembina purchased in 2017. He said he understood some landowners’ frustration with the process given the project's 14-year history and the lack of communication from project backers. He said Pembina tried to get a fresh start last fall by offering landowners a limited-time, $30,000 incentive payment on top of the negotiated price of their easements.

“It's not a huge amount of money, but we needed to start on a fresh page,” Anderson said.

Anderson declined to discuss individual easement prices, saying they were a function of market prices and compensation for any specific damages or losses construction would cause. But a few of the agreements are rumored to be very large, and company has reportedly bought out some landowners altogether.

The debate over the projects has not always been civil, and regulators set strict conditions on this week's public hearings. It is conducting one-on-one, three minute interviews in separate rooms instead of public forums. Recording of interviews is not allowed, and the commission warned it could shut the process down if protesters got out of hand.



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