Got gas? In Coos Bay, OR, the answer is no. Citizens pushingbusiness development for the economically depressed area want tobuild a pipeline to change that.

Tim Bishop, president of the 500-member group Friends of New andSustainable Industry (FONSI), says propane-bound Coos Bay and thesurrounding area needs gas to attract industry and jobs. Bishopcites a 1997 study done by Coos-Curry Development that says 1,700jobs had been lost or not materialized in the area over a five-yearperiod due to a lack of natural gas. “It’s my understanding we’rethe largest urban area in the United States that does not havenatural gas.”

That could change if FONSI and LDC Northwest Natural Gas havetheir way. The two are pushing the intrastate Coos Bay Pipeline, a12-inch line that would run 65 miles from Roseburg, OR, to CoosBay. Williams Gas Pipeline Northwest would be the upstreaminterconnect. The line would be owned by Coos County.

The Oregon legislature has set aside $4 million for the projectand just set aside another $20 million in lottery-backed funds fora pipeline. That $20 million is contingent upon the county passinga property tax bond issue to come up with another $20 million. Theproject is expected to cost about $45 million, Bishop said. CoosCounty voters will decide on a bond issue in November. “We’re allfeeling optimistic about it. It is widely recognized as animportant economic business development tool,” said NorthwestNatural spokesman Gregg Kantor.

If the pipeline goes through, Kantor said the LDC would buildout its system to serve the area. Northwest Natural has nearly500,000 customers now. Kantor said he didn’t know how manycustomers would be added by a system build-out. Bishop said theCoos Bay area potentially could have 25,000 to 30,000 gas customersover a five- to 10-year period. Kantor said Northwest Natural wouldspend about $10 million initially to build out its system over thefirst five years.

The biggest potential end-user currently in the Coos Bay area isWeyerhaeuser Paper, which currently burns recycled oil and woodchips, Bishop said. Up for grabs is a steel mill consideringlocating in the area. Bishop said the area lost out on getting a300-job U.S. Gypsum plant because it couldn’t offer natural gas.Still, he conceded, there is opposition to a pipeline from a localgroup called Coalition for Community Vision. “We call them cavepeople.” Bishop said the group mainly is opposed to the steel millcoming to town.

The public sector push for the pipeline reflects a change inthinking that’s taken place over the years, Kantor said. “We’velooked at building the pipeline ourselves over the last 20 years,and other companies have looked at it. There’s just not enough loadthere to make it a sound business investment. It’s now seen reallyas an economic development project.” Bishop, who owns a localcopier business spearheaded the effort to organize FONSI.

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