County officials ran out of time last Monday to hear from all the citizens who wanted to say something about NorthernStar Natural Gas’ proposed Bradwood Landing liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal along the Columbia River in Oregon, so the public hearing will be continued on Nov. 19. Clatsop County Commissioners are weighing whether to grant NorthernStar zoning changes for the project.
County commissioners are reviewing a recommendation from the county planning commission to grant the energy company’s request. Despite a staff report recommending denial, the Clatsop County Planning Commission on a 4-3 vote recommended in August that the elected officials approve NorthernStar’s rezoning petition for its proposed site.
Next month, the county board will take up where it left off Monday, taking citizen comments, and then will conclude by allowing NorthernStar representatives to provide rebuttal and an opportunity to answer questions from the elected officials and citizens. “It is not known at this time whether or not the commissioners will take a vote on the 19th or defer a vote to a later meeting,” Charles Deister, a NorthernStar spokesperson, told NGI Thursday.
“From our perspective the hearing went well [Monday],” Deister said. “Both sides were equally represented, and more importantly, there was no new information presented by the opposition whereas the president of the Columbia River Pilots, Capt. Paul Amos, and Director of the Columbia River Steamship Operators Association, Capt. James Townley, both testified in support of our project.
“They said our impacts to other shippers and river traffic were negligible. The Oregon AFL-CIO endorsed our project two weeks ago and testified in support, as did the Northwest Gas Association.”
NorthernStar is stressing the economic advantages of LNG imports ($4/MMBtu vs. $6-7/MMBtu domestic supplies), while trying to assure local officials that it can operate the facilities safely and mitigate any environmental impacts.
Prior to the hearing, the county planning staff recirculated its negative assessment from earlier in the year recommending rejection of NorthernStar’s proposal for a terminal site along the Oregon side of the Columbia River, about 30 miles east of Astoria, OR. A spokesperson for the project downplayed the staff report as old news.
NorthernStar needs 30 land-use regulation changes for its facilities to offload LNG, regasify it, and ship the gas from the terminal in a new 36-inch diameter pipeline cutting across parts of Clatsop and two other Oregon counties before interconnecting with existing major north-south interstate gas pipelines to the east.
“The reissuance of the staff report doesn’t change our position,” said Joe Desmond, NorthernStar’s senior vice president. “In fact, we look forward to making our case before the county commission and presenting our project’s benefits to the local and regional economy.”
Despite the favorable planning commission recommendation, the staff feels the report indicates that several of NorthernStar’s specific requests should be turned down, including one to dredge 700,000 cubic yards of material from 46 acres of the river bottom, deepening the riverbed by nine feet. Adjacent landowners also do not want the proposed connecting transmission pipeline crossing their property.
Ultimately, opponents are expecting the issue to wind up with the state land-use board of appeals, regardless of what the county commissioners decide to do.
“The dredging is appropriate to support development of the adjacent industrial site,” Desmond said. “Earlier this month, the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development advised the county that where the integrity of the estuary is not compromised, a change in zoning in the Columbia River to support an appropriate use on land is consistent with statewide goals.”
NorthernStar further argues that its proposed dredging is just a fraction (2%) of what is on the drawing board for the Columbia, citing the Army Corps of Engineers’ plans to dredge more than 23 million cubic feet as part of an effort to deepen the river’s navigation channel to 43 feet. Generally, the LNG backers contend their proposed site modification constitutes a “small-medium-size” industrial project, compared to the criteria for large facilities.
Nevertheless, the staff report asks that seven of the NorthernStar conditional-use requests be denied, and the local opposition group, Landowners and Citizens for a Safe Community in neighboring Cowlitz County, is using the staff recommendations to support its case.
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