Oregon Town Sees Gas as Key to Growth
Got gas? In Coos Bay, OR, the answer is no. Citizens pushing
business development for the economically depressed area want to
build a pipeline to change that.
Tim Bishop, president of the 500-member group Friends of New and
Sustainable Industry (FONSI), says propane-bound Coos Bay and the
surrounding area needs gas to attract industry and jobs. Bishop
cites a 1997 study done by Coos-Curry Development that says 1,700
jobs had been lost or not materialized in the area over a five-year
period due to a lack of natural gas. "It's my understanding we're
the largest urban area in the United States that does not have
That could change if FONSI and LDC Northwest Natural Gas have
their way. The two are pushing the intrastate Coos Bay Pipeline, a
12-inch line that would run 65 miles from Roseburg, OR, to Coos
Bay. Williams Gas Pipeline Northwest would be the upstream
interconnect. The line would be owned by Coos County.
The Oregon legislature has set aside $4 million for the project
and just set aside another $20 million in lottery-backed funds for
a pipeline. That $20 million is contingent upon the county passing
a property tax bond issue to come up with another $20 million. The
project is expected to cost about $45 million, Bishop said. Coos
County voters will decide on a bond issue in November. "We're all
feeling optimistic about it. It is widely recognized as an
important economic business development tool," said Northwest
Natural spokesman Gregg Kantor.
If the pipeline goes through, Kantor said the LDC would build
out its system to serve the area. Northwest Natural has nearly
500,000 customers now. Kantor said he didn't know how many
customers would be added by a system build-out. Bishop said the
Coos Bay area potentially could have 25,000 to 30,000 gas customers
over a five- to 10-year period. Kantor said Northwest Natural would
spend about $10 million initially to build out its system over the
first five years.
The biggest potential end-user currently in the Coos Bay area is
Weyerhaeuser Paper, which currently burns recycled oil and wood
chips, Bishop said. Up for grabs is a steel mill considering
locating in the area. Bishop said the area lost out on getting a
300-job U.S. Gypsum plant because it couldn't offer natural gas.
Still, he conceded, there is opposition to a pipeline from a local
group called Coalition for Community Vision. "We call them cave
people." Bishop said the group mainly is opposed to the steel mill
coming to town.
The public sector push for the pipeline reflects a change in
thinking that's taken place over the years, Kantor said. "We've
looked at building the pipeline ourselves over the last 20 years,
and other companies have looked at it. There's just not enough load
there to make it a sound business investment. It's now seen really
as an economic development project." Bishop, who owns a local
copier business spearheaded the effort to organize FONSI.
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