Farm community protests proposed natural gas pipeline


About 200 people attended a federal hearing on a proposed 117-mile buried natural gas pipeline Oregon LNG wants to build from Astoria to Molalla, and most of them were mad.

Oregon LNG CEO Peter Hansen gave assurances of safety Wednesday night but said, "If you hate our guts, that's not a good start."

It was not a good start.

Members of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission staff are in Oregon to take testimony on a proposal for the 3-foot-diameter pipeline through fertile farmland.

Construction depends on federal approval of a liquefied natural gas import terminal at Astoria. A rival company hopes for approval for one farther up the Columbia River at Bradwood Landing but it would not involve farmland. Neither has been approved.

Oregon LNG emerged from the bankruptcy of Calpine, which had initially applied to build the Astoria import terminal.

"I have yet to talk to any farmer who's anywhere near the pipeline who's for it," said Sam Sweeney, a longtime Dayton farmer.

Farmers are asking Yamhill County to back their opposition. As planned, the line would go through prime farmland in Yamhill, Marion and Clackamas counties.

Opponents want Oregon LNG to use public rights of way along roads and existing utility corridors instead of farmland.

Failing that, they want installation and repair work limited to summer and early fall, when the soil is least vulnerable.

They want the pipe at least 10 feet deep, replacement of trees and a hotline in case of problems.

"We're thinking, if you're going to go through ag land and use it forever, then you're going to need to bend our way a little bit," Sweeney said.

"I don't know how they did this, but they went right through the middle of our two farm properties," he told FERC staff. "Right smack dab in the middle."

Hansen was asked by one man, "Who are you people? Are you from Oregon?"

Another, his voice shaking with anger, noted plans to put a pump station near his home. He told FERC not to come after his property "or I'll come after your property."

Yamhill livestock farmer David Armstrong said it would be easy for terrorists to destroy the line, blow up highways it crosses under and cut Portland off from the Willamette Valley.

Hillsboro resident Jerry Carssa suggested the anger toward Oregon LNG was misdirected.

"We're all just relieving our pressure tonight, FERC is going to do what it wants," he said. "If you want to go after people, go after public officials."

Daniel Serres of Columbia Riverkeepers, also said citizens lack information and asked why the giant maps and aerial photos outside the hearing room are not available online.

He told FERC staff that Oregon LNG's proposal must be viewed in a larger context: It's not the only energy company that wants to build a Columbia River terminal and a pipeline.

"I simply don't think you can make a straight-faced argument that this is the whole story," Serres said. "I think it's FERC's job to sort this out."

He said much of the gas would serve markets outside Oregon.

Leah Larson Saroni, a California resident whose family has a tree farm near Yamhill, said Californians have defeated pipeline proposals.

California wouldn't let it in through the front door, and Oregon shouldn't let it in through the back, she said.

In addition to the proposed Columbia River import terminals, one is being considered near Coos Bay.

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