The Clatsop County Commission took a big step toward denying a key land-use application for the Oregon LNG liquefied natural gas project on Wednesday. And no one from the company showed up to defend the project.
Oregon LNG claims the legal challenge the company filed in circuit court Friday shifted the approval process out of the county’s hands.
“The county doesn’t have jurisdiction, so there was no point in participating,” said Oregon LNG CEO Peter Hansen, who declined comment further on the issue.
Nevertheless, the board voted 4-1 to accept new staff findings that say the company’s pipeline plans conflict with several land-use laws. The findings are a new twist in a long permitting saga for Oregon LNG – the last of Oregon’s three proposed LNG import projects to advance through the federal licensing process.
The Oregon LNG project would import super-cooled natural gas liquid at a terminal near the mouth of the Columbia River in Warrenton. The project includes a 117-mile pipeline that would send reheated natural gas southeast through Clatsop County and onto a natural gas hub in Molalla.
Last year, a land-use hearings officer had approved the company’s pipeline application, and the county board voted to support that approval. But project opponents with Columbia Riverkeeper appealed. And a new slate of county commissioners took office in January and immediately withdrew the former board’s approval to reconsider the application.
Not so fast, said Oregon LNG (whose pipeline company is called Oregon Pipeline). On Friday, the company protested the withdrawal in Clatsop County Circuit Court, claiming the county failed to take final action on the company’s application within the legal time frame.
The company sent a letter to the county on Monday saying the status of the application now rests in circuit court, and any actions taken by the county commission before the court rules (on March 18) will be invalid.
Hence, no one from Oregon LNG attended the county’s hearing Wednesday. And County Counsel Jeff Bennett told the board if the court sides with the company the board may have to redo the hearing.
Dan Serres of the LNG opponent group Columbia Riverkeeper said the company is “dead wrong” in its legal claim, and that the court won’t change the final outcome on the application. He said LUBA statutes kicked in within the legal time frame for the county to act, and Oregon LNG is “just throwing stuff out to try to complicate and delay the process.”
Dirk Rohne, chairman of the Clatsop County Board of Commissioners, said the county expects an appeal of its decision on the application no matter what. Columbia Riverkeeper appealed the November approval, and Oregon LNG will likely appeal a denial, he said. Either way, the decision will go to the Land Use Board of Appeals.
“I would argue LUBA is fairly autonomous,” Rohne said. “It’s possible that if what we’re doing isn’t legal then LUBA could side with Oregon LNG.”
“The motion contends the county has missed the legal deadline for taking final action on its consolidated application for the construction of 41 miles of natural gas pipeline serving the proposed liquefied natural gas terminal in Warrenton.
Oregon law requires jurisdictions to take final action on land use applications no more than 150 days after the application is deemed complete. If the deadline is missed, the applicant can request, through a mandamus motion, to have the local circuit court order that the application be approved.
In November 2010 the board of commissioners approved the application. That decision was appealed to the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals by project opponents. On Jan. 12, 2011, the board, with three new commissioners, voted to file a notice of withdrawal of the November decision with LUBA. Jurisdictions have the authority to withdraw land-use decisions, for the purpose of reconsideration, prior to completing and filing the record of the process with LUBA. The board set a limited public hearing for March 9 to reconsider the application.
Oregon Pipeline contends that the deadline for final approval of its application, following a number of extensions, was Jan. 24, 2011, and the board, by moving to reconsider the approval originally granted to the company in November, has missed that deadline.
Under the motion, Clatsop County must either grant the approval or respond in court on March 18.”