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Federal Officials Listen To Landowners' Pipeline Concerns

Key staffers with a powerful federal agency paid a rare visit to a handful of small Oregon communities recently.

They were looking at the path natural gas pipelines might take as they head away from liquefied natural gas terminals that could come to northwestern Oregon.

Rob Manning followed along as the feds listened – and responded - to local landowners.

FERC Tour - Photos by Rob Manning

The two big gas pipelines required by the proposed Bradwood Landing and Oregon LNG terminals would have a long distance to travel from the lower Columbia River to Clackamas County.

But they'd actually cross within sight of Paul Sansone's farm. Sansone opposes the pipelines, in part because he thinks the Gales Creek valley's tendency to flood violently could break them.

Sansone has been farming for 30 years, but he says the near-constant flooding has aged him considerably. 

Paul Sansone: "In flood years, I'm 1257 years old because we've had two 500-year floods, two 100-year floods, and you know where the 57 came from."

Among those laughing were two women supervising the Oregon LNG terminal and pipeline projects for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. It's an agency often vilified by LNG opponents. Landowners, like Cindy Straughan, tried to be hospitable.

Cindy Straughan: "When we get done, I've got coffee and cookies and stuff up by house, if people want to —-"
Medha Kochhar: "If people want to, but it will be alright, thank you, it's a nice gesture."

That's Medha Kochhar, the project manager at FERC for the Oregon LNG project. She spent two days last week in Washington and Yamhill counties tracking the pipeline and listening to people.

She heard a few stories like organic farmer, Ann Burblinger's.

Ann Burblinger: "It would basically destroy our farm. There's no time of year that we're not growing things. We have a lot invested in infrastructure, and the pipeline would go right smack through the middle of our main growing field."

There's a difference between writing up a statement like that and mailing it to D.C., and actually standing in front of key officials and showing them around. And yet it might not mean that experience is any less frustrating.

Allen Neuringer: "Let me be clear: what kind of evidence would lead you to recommend no build?"

That's landowner Allen Neuringer, who opposes the projects. He wanted the Kochhar to suggest the kind of information that could help stop the pipelines. She pointed him to her deputy, Jennifer Kerrigan.

Jennifer Kerrigan: "This is something that I, myself, could not do. It would take other people."

Allen Neuringer: "Who are these other people?"

Jennifer Kerrigan: "These other people are like, my bosses." <laughing>

Allen Neuringer: "Medha told me that you're the expert."

Jennifer Kerrigan: "I'm just working on it and compiling the information."

Allen Neuringer:  "We want to help you reach the best decision you can, and you're not providing any input to us as to how we can help you."

This time, Kochhar answered.

Medha: "Allen, I suggest you phrase this very question, just the way you said it to us, put it in writing, and I will take your letter to our higher-ups and say ‘he wants us to address that in our document, say whether what evidence you need to address it…

Allen Neuringer: "The document will be too late."

Medha Kochhar: "No!"

Allen Neuringer: "Yes, by the time the document comes, you'll have made your recommendation."  

Medha Kochhar: "No, you write it today, and it'll get to us in a couple days."

Allen Neuringer: "And you'll give me an answer?"

Medha Kochhar: "No, we won't give you an answer. But we'll take your question to our management, let them give us guidance about what they want us to do."

But property owners felt better about how the feds responded as they pointed out high-water marks and drainage problems around Gales Creek. They warned that heavy rains can turn the soil to sponge, and the creek into a raging river. Emilio Candanoza is an engineering consultant to the LNG company. He was  along for the tour. He says the company, Oregon LNG, could prepare the pipe for those conditions.

Emilio Candanoza: "We would just have to evaluate the buoyant forces on the pipe, and then provide additional weight coating, or weights along the pipe, to ensure that it doesn't float."

Farmer Paul Sansone told Candanoza that a state engineer had tried the same thing to stabilize a big tree that had fallen in the creek.

Paul Sansone: "So he engineered weights on this tree, which is 150 foot long, five and a half feet in diameter. So they calculated the ‘buoyant forces' on that tree. That tree is now a half mile further down."

Minutes after Sansone pointed that out, everybody walked down his driveway for a coffee break.

And while nobody said it out loud, there seemed to be agreement that as much power as the feds might have, or the LNG company, or even the property owners – they'd all have to contend with the natural force of the creek that already cuts through this valley.