NorthernStar Energy LLC's Bradwood Landing liquefied natural gas (LNG) project, slated for development along the Columbia River in Oregon, won a favorable recommendation Aug. 30 from the Clatsop County Planning Commission. Reversing its previous draft recommendation, the unit voted to recommend that the county's elected Board of Commissioners issue land-use approvals, authorizing the proposed $600 million, 1.3 Bcf/d terminal be built.

The planning commission's action to approve or approve-with-conditions some changes requested by the LNG project sponsors led to the overall positive recommendation of the project, according to Joe Desmond, a NorthernStar senior vice president, who earlier in August told NGI in an interview that local planning/zoning issues need to be resolved in the next few months, along with a series of public hearings beginning in October on the Bradwood Landing draft environmental documents.

Marking another step forward in the local permitting for the LNG terminal project that has drawn various local opposition, NorthernStar CEO Si Garrett said the project proponents are "looking forward to presenting our case before the Clatsop commissioners and demonstrating how our project will boost the local and regional economies, enhance environmental health of the lower Columbia River, and provide a stable supply of natural gas to the Pacific Northwest."

NorthernStar said the county commission will begin holding pubic hearings on the Bradwood project in October with a final decision expected in mid-November. It said the planning commission's recommendation is not binding, but the unit's decision to support the project "is a significant milestone and follows a similar recommendation made by the [Federal Energy Regulatory Commission] staff on the draft environmental impact statement Aug. 17.

NorthernStar could start construction in the first of half of next year, following what Desmond called a "positive recommendation" from FERC staff in the project's draft environmental review.

"If things go according to the schedule, we would hope for a final license some time in the first quarter of 2008," Desmond said. At this point, NorthernStar has no agreements with any suppliers or buyers of gas at the terminal.

The proposed Oregon terminal would be located on a 40-acre site at the former townsite of Bradwood in Clatsop County, OR, about 38 miles up the Columbia River from the Pacific Ocean -- the main economic artery for the Pacific Northwest.

Earlier in the month, the planning commission staff expressed opposition to Bradwood in an updated report, which followed an earlier recommendation for denial of zoning changes for the proposed LNG receiving terminal site. At the time NorthernStar said it was unconcerned.

A public hearing on the 70-page staff document was held Aug. 29, and NorthernStar said it expected the county planning unit to make its recommendation to the elected county commission by mid-September. Thursday's action came earlier than expected.

The Bradwood project's Astoria, OR-based spokesperson, Charles Deister, said in a brief interview Aug. 24 that the LNG terminal backers had made progress in resolving issues with the planning staff, and by the time the county commission made a final determination, he expected the company and staff to be in total agreement. "We were maybe 70% in agreement, and now we're roughly 90% in agreement, he said.

Part of the county planning staff report acknowledged that the project sponsors had "done much to resolve deficiencies identified by staff in [its] June 28 report," citing road improvements, creation of a decommissioning plan and increased emergency response resources. "The applicant also has modified its original findings and submitted additional evidence, thereby strengthening the applications

"We commend the applicant for those substantial improvements but believe that the application still fails to satisfy key approval criteria."

Part of the disagreement centered on the developers' contention that if zoning standards can be met through conditions, then an application should be approved. The planning staff specifically stated its disagreement with this, citing the state statute governing local government approving land-use changes.

"We think it is unlikely that new evidence or extended review will change [some deficiencies]," the planning staff said. "We further believe that not all deficiencies can be resolved through conditions of approval."

Ultimately, the planning unit staff changed it mind and decided with conditions, the LNG project should be given the land-use approvals needed to move ahead with the massive terminal and pipeline project.

Federal and state agencies recently deemed complete a deepwater port license application for a second NorthernStar project, the Clearwater project in California (see related story).

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