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Oregon County Reaffirms LNG Approval; Official Recalled

The five-member Clatsop County Commission voted 4-1 March 20 to reaffirm its approval of NorthernStar Natural Gas's proposed Bradwood Landing liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal along the Columbia River 18 miles east of Astoria, OR. The elected county leaders reiterated a previous vote to approve land-use changes sought by NorthernStar and the county's conditions for approval.

However, in a recall election last Tuesday, local voters by a 2-1 margin ousted Commssioner Richard Lee, who had supported land-use changes for the proposed LNG terminal.

A group opposing the NorthernStar Natural Gas LNG terminal hailed the recall as a "stunning defeat for one of the main LNG supporters."

NorthernStar has also proposed a local contract with the county to abide by the conditions and not appeal them to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which has the ultimate siting authority over the Bradwood Landing project.

These actions come at a time when a new natural gas interstate pipeline bids to bring added supplies from Wyoming into Oregon by TransCanada and Williams, operators of the two major existing interstate gas pipelines serving the Pacific Northwest. This project could undermine arguments by NorthernStar and other proponents of Oregon LNG terminals citing a strong long-term need for new imported gas supplies as more Rockies gas is expected to increasingly be shipped east through the expanded Rockies Express pipeline.

NorthernStar's local spokesperson in Portland said there was no direct competition between the LNG project and the proposed 42-inch diameter, 618-mile Sunstone pipeline from Wyoming gas basins to Stanfield, OR in the north-central part of the state. After favorable county commission vote, the company issued a statement from its CEO William "Si" Garrett saying that the reaffirmation from the county commissioners will allow Bradwood Landing to move forward.

In an announcement from one of the activist groups opposing the LNG terminal, Clatsop County Residents for Common Sense, the ousted official, Lee, was described as a "long-time political figure who was chair of the county commission until the recall effort was initiated." The group noted that Lee had spent more than $40,000 to defend his seat on the commission, outspending the citizen-led recall effort by better than six to one.

"There's no question that the LNG project was an important issue for many people in this recall," said former county planning commissioner Marc Auerbach, who was one of the lead organizers of the recall. Last year before the county-elected body approved the rezoning for the proposed LNG site, the county planning committee recommended officials approve it.

"Clatsop County has sent a clear message that Commissioner Lee and the county commission is out of touch with local residents," said Lori Durheim, who worked for both the recall and in the continuing fight against the LNG terminal plans.

Meanwhile, NorthernStar said the Clatsop commissioners on March 20 officially accepted the contract to "memorialize" the company's commitment to abide by the county's conditions of approval and not try to appeal them to the federal regulators.

"Throughout the land-use compatibility statement process, we have steadfastly committed to surpass all state and federal requirements with respect to safety and the responsible conservation of the environment," Garrett said. "We have and will continue to faithfully abide by all of the commitments that we have made, and we will honor our pledge to not appeal.

"[In the process,] we have found ways to improve our project while enhancing safety and protection of the environment. Our terminal will only use about 50 of the more than 400 acres that we are acquiring, and most of the site is being maintained as a natural conservation area. Our site is already zoned for marine industrial development and has a 100-year history of industrial use as a logging [operation] and sawmill."

Among the county conditions that Bradwood is bound to fulfill are keeping a nearby channel accessible for fishing; limiting the plant to two LNG tanks; obtaining permits to conduct wetlands mitigation; setting aside funds for the eventual decommissioning of the project; and enhancing safety for adjacent roads and plant operations.

In addition, Bradwood's backers have committed to pay the county's full tax amount of about $7.8 million annually and not seek to lower its tax bill through an enterprise zone designation. The LNG terminal would be Clatsop County's largest taxpayer by the company's current estimates.

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