Three days of local town hall sessions conducted by a FERC administrative law judge (ALJ) that ended last Thursday in Portland, OR, regarding a proposal to build a third LNG receiving terminal in the state drew strong criticism from the project's backers, who allege that the process is secretive and undemocratic. Separately, a second LNG terminal proponent filed in the Oregon Court of Appeals against the state Land-Use Board of Appeals (LUBA) for rejecting county approvals of its project.

On his way to a second town hall meeting in Astoria, OR, last Wednesday, Oregon LNG CEO Peter Hansen vowed to NGI that his firm would retain its right to rebut critical comments from local landowners along the proposed route for a 122-mile natural gas transmission pipeline that is planned to connect the proposed LNG facility with the interstate and local distribution pipeline/storage systems in the greater Portland metropolitan area.

While he is prepared to see how the meetings and ALJ's report play out, Hansen said he was "somewhat shocked that a process like the one unfolding could be initiated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission [FERC]."

The focus of Hansen's ire is a series of meetings conducted by FERC Deputy Chief ALJ Bobbie McCartney at the direction of FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff in which landowners have alleged that Oregon LNG project representatives have tried to coerce them into giving project easements for pipeline rights-of-way. Hansen objects to not being able to cross-examine the testimony he said is being taken by the FERC judge in the meetings.

"Why this process should be a town hall meeting concept is unclear to me," Hansen told NGI Wednesday, following the first meeting Tuesday in Forest Grove, OR. "They are talking about anything and everything regarding the pipeline, although originally it was just supposed to deal with our interaction with the landowners."

Meanwhile, NorthernStar Natural Gas Corp. filed Thursday in the Oregon Court of Appeals, challenging a decision earlier in April by LUBA. NorthernStar is concerned about two issues that were remanded back to the local county commission where it is seeking to develop its Bradwood Landing LNG receiving facility.

The Clatsop County Board of Commissioners again has been asked by LUBA to reexamine part of earlier approvals of the proposed $650 million LNG project.

While NorthernStar officials reiterated that LUBA substantially has agreed with the county's 2008 land-use decisions, an opponent of the project that keeps appealing county action to LUBA, the Columbia Riverkeeper, emphasized that the county has continued to be rejected by the state board's questioning of whether the proposed LNG facility would meet county standards for small- and medium-scale development, which they contend is the only kind of development allowed at the Bradwood site.

In the FERC case, Hansen alleges that the process that McCartney put in place allowed citizens to submit "secret testimony" to FERC, but was subsequently changed since Oregon LNG attorneys complained about it. "It is a little difficult to swallow being accused of something in secret and not being allowed to question our accusers and not knowing who it is and what they are accusing you of."

Oregon LNG feels that its rights to due process are being violated, and is prepared to eventually challenge its legality if necessary, said Hansen, noting that the company will have a chance to make a statement at the conclusion of the third meeting Thursday. "We'll see what comes out of it because we have behaved around these landowners exactly as are supposed to, and I haven't heard anyone provide any kind of evidence to contradict that," he said.

An Oregon Public Broadcasting report Tuesday quoted landowners as raising three main issues: the company allegedly ignoring their concerns about potential pipeline locations, the company allegedly "bullying" people and Oregon LNG not providing information that people seek.

Although the local news reports did not confirm it, Hansen said the opposition is being organized by Columbia Riverkeeper, and has opposed a competing LNG terminal proposal along the river, NorthernStar Natural Gas Corp.'s Bradwood Landing project.

In addition to its proposed receiving terminal at Warrenton, OR, near Astoria where Wednesday's meeting was held, Oregon LNG has proposed a 122-mile, 36-inch-diameter transmission pipeline running southeasterly into the Portland area with a 10-mile, 24-inch-diameter pipeline lateral connecting to the Northwest Natural Gas distribution backbone system and the Mist gas storage field.

Hansen said the Oregon LNG has not signed leases with any of the landowners, although it has obtained access agreements for about 70% of the pipeline route to complete environmental and cultural studies along the proposed right-of-way. Eventually the LNG developer will negotiate leases after it has obtained its FERC and other permits.

"We have collected a wealth of data on the pipeline environment, but we don't have property rights agreements in place yet," he said.

In the state case, NorthernStar is appealing to the court for the first time, and a Portland-based project spokesperson said that if the company can prevail in the courts if will not have to go back to the county for further approvals.

NorthernStar President Paul Soanes called the latest LUBA decision "flawed" in several respects, noting the company contends the state board has exceeded its jurisdiction, along with "misapplying the applicable standards and failing to acknowledge particular findings." In short, NorthernStar is contending LUBA has substituted its judgment for the county's, which was "reasonable and supported by substantial evidence."

NorthernStar officials are taking the position that throughout the federal, state and local processes, the proponents of the LNG terminal and 36.3-mile connecting gas transmission pipeline have done all they could to comply with permitting and environmental requirements. In late March, county staff recommended approval of the Bradwood plan for placement and management of dredged materials, erosion/sediment control plans, and a conditional use permit for road improvements outside of the right of way.

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