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Oregon Town Sees Gas as Key to Growth

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 natural gas."

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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