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North Coast Sings Out Against LNG

by Kate Ramsayer
The Daily Astorian, November 18, 2005

Zone change would allow Calpine to start applying for permits

Warrenton -- Opponents sang out, loudly and in harmony, against liquefied natural gas on the lower Columbia River Thursday night.

Lively refrains of "This Land is Your Land," led by Astorian Joseph Stevenson, rang through the Warrenton Community Center at a special Warrenton City Commission meeting.

Stevenson urged the commissioners to consider residents' opinions on LNG, perhaps even putting the matter to a community vote, and other LNG opponents chimed in to voice their concerns with the industry.

The commission held the meeting to hear public testimony and other relevant facts pertaining to a zone change requested by Skipanon Natural Gas LLC, a subsidiary of San Jose, Calif.-based Calpine Corp., which is hoping to build an LNG import, regasification and transfer plant on the east side of the Skipanon Peninsula in Warrenton.

They heard from lawyers for Skipanon Natural Gas as well as many residents who spoke - and sang - in opposition to the project. No vote was taken, and the commissioners agreed to keep the record open for responses and to take the issue up again at their Dec. 15 meeting.

Skipanon Natural Gas is proposing to rezone the area, which is currently zoned Urban Resort and Recreation to accommodate the Port of Astoria's planned golf course and Aquatic Conservation, to Especially Suited Water Dependent shoreland and Aquatic Development. The change on land is necessary to build the facility, while the change on water is necessary to dredge a turning basin and build a pier for the 1,000-foot LNG tankers that will deliver the superchilled fuel, said Calpine's attorney Mark Whitlow.

"It's critical that we be able to access the channel," he said.

The zone change would allow the company to start applying for permits from agencies like the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the U.S. Coast Guard, to get permission to site a facility in Warrenton, Whitlow said. The regulations in that permitting process, which includes evaluations by other state and federal agencies, will consider issues the commissioners have said are important to the community, he said.

Map of natural gas facilities and pipelines in the Northwest "It addresses all the issues you've listed out," Whitlow said.

Calpine attorney Frank Flynn later presented a list of the similarities between the city development criteria and requirements from the Department of State Lands and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Whitlow added that the rezoning was not a "free pass" for the company to be able to build a facility, but instead would allow them to start submitting permit applications to federal and state agencies.

Calpine Vice President for Development Peter Hansen gave an overview of the project and the need for LNG in the United States, as well as the reasons why the company decided to focus on Warrenton. Officials were looking for a site that was available, a mile from population centers and 1,600 feet from the Columbia River channel.

Grumblings from the full house at the community center started when Hansen said the company was looking for a site that wouldn't impact an airport, continued when he talked about looking for a site where visual impacts and required dredging were minimal, and grew to incredulous laughter and dissent when he started talking about acceptable seismic and tsunami zones.

Warrenton Mayor Gil Gramson called for order and asked the audience to be respectful of the speakers.

After representatives from Skipanon Natural Gas spoke, David Shannon of Hammond spoke on behalf of the community group People For Responsible Prosperity. Shannon requested that the record be held open for comments on material submitted right before the meeting and for rebuttals of those comments.

After much discussion about how to orchestrate that, the Commission decided to keep the record open until Nov. 30, allow a response period until Dec. 7, allow Skipanon Natural Gas to have a final say in to the commission by Dec. 9, and allow commissioners to ask questions of a representative for the applicants and opponents at their meeting of Dec. 15.

Shannon then asked the commission why they're considering this decision, when the cities of Mobile, Ala.; Oxnard, Eureka and Vallejo, Calif.; Cumberland, Maine; Belnar, N.J. and Tampa, Fla. have rejected or are fighting LNG proposals.

"What is it that they know that you don't know?" Shannon asked.

He talked about Calpine's financial situation and the fact that its stock has dropped, and said the company is just tying up the land, and could even interfere with the businesses and 430 jobs that are already nearby, like Weyerhaeuser and Pacific Seafoods. He predicted that the company will ask for a tax freeze, so that it doesn't provide revenue for the community.

He said that while Calpine says other agencies will ensure the health of the air and waterways, he pointed to the Houston Ship Channel and Los Angeles smog as examples of how the federal government doesn't protect the environment.

Shannon also said that Calpine has not adequately addressed different planning goals, or what its impact would be on local public works, fire or police services.

"People are worried about what will happen here," he said, to agreement from the crowd.

Approximately 20 people spoke out against the rezoning proposal and LNG, citing reasons from the effect on property values to concerns about where the pipeline will go to a need to get away from foreign sources of energy.

Carol Newman said she wanted to say "thank you" to Calpine: "They have certainly inspired a lot of people to come together" to do some creative problem solving, she said.

Jeryce Russell, of the Port Warren housing area neighboring the Skipanon Peninsula, said some residents are selling their property because of fears of what will happen if an LNG facility is built nearby.

"Many of our residents feel that our city officials have forgotten us," Russell said, adding that the commissioners have a big responsibility in making this decision.

The commissioners were cautioned to ask themselves if all of what Calpine officials are saying is true; Rose Priven said that many of the company's assertions are in fact opinions. She added that she believes the company will turn around and pitch the project to a major energy company like Shell if the rezoning is granted.

Many residents have also signed an open letter to the commissioners, demanding that they deny Calpine's request because of defects in the public participation requirements, as well as perceived problems in the way the Warrenton Planning Commission handled the matter in October.

"It is very difficult for the public to have confidence in the decisions made by the Warrenton Planning Commission when it appears that the entire process is being conducted, not by the Planning Commission, but the city staff and attorneys, specifically at the behest of the applicant," Sue Skinner read from the letter.

The potential effects on the fishing industry were brought up.

"The fishermen want to be here, I think you should look into protecting their interests first," said Gary Soderstrom of the Columbia River Fishermen's Protective Union, who talked about the busy Youngs Bay fishery.

Two representatives from trade unions spoke in favor of the project; pile drivers representative Kirk Deal said there was a need for natural gas in Oregon, and also noted that Woody Guthrie, in addition to writing folk songs, talked about jobs for the Columbia River.

Former Warrenton Mayor Jeff Hazen said that the area's children are capable of filling jobs at a facility like the proposed LNG project. While people might have ideas for the property like a four-year state university, Hazen expressed doubts that the state would even want to have such a thing.

Port of Astoria Commissioner Larry Pfund, after joking that he must have been abducted by Calpine's spaceship because he is still in favor of the project, said LNG was an appropriate use of the land and would bring jobs to the area.

Kate Ramsayer, Staff Reporter
North Coast Sings Out Against LNG
The Daily Astorian, November 18, 2005

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