Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals Upholds Clatsop County’s Decision Denying Gas Pipeline for Proposed Columbia River Liquefied Natural Gas Terminal

A state appeals board agreed with Clatsop County’s decision that a liquefied natural gas (LNG) pipeline would threaten public safety and improperly harm protected rivers and farmland. 

Today the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA) ruled in favor of Clatsop County, upholding the County’s decision to deny a key permit for the Oregon LNG pipeline. Without the critical land use permit, the proposed LNG pipeline cannot be built, as state law prohibits the LNG company from securing state environmental permits or certifications without county land use permits.

“We are thrilled that LUBA chose to respect our county’s decision to deny Oregon LNG’s proposed natural gas export pipeline,” said Laurie Caplan, an Astoria resident and local activist representing Columbia Pacific Common Sense.

In today’s decision, LUBA ruled that Clatsop County properly decided that the LNG pipeline violates local laws designed to protect public safety and salmon. The County found that the pipeline operates with pressurized flammable and explosive gases that present a well-documented safety risk to nearby residential uses. The County also found that Oregon LNG’s plans to bore the pipeline under salmon-bearing rivers violated the requirement to protect the Columbia River estuary, an area at the center of regional and national efforts to recover endangered salmon.

“Today’s decision marks a significant turning point for LNG on the Columbia River,” stated Brett VandenHeuvel, Executive Director for Columbia Riverkeeper. “The people of Clatsop County want clean water, safe communities, and strong salmon runs. LNG development would take us in the wrong direction.”

LUBA’s decision comes after years of legal wrangling by the LNG company. In October 2013, the Clatsop County Board of Commissioners voted 5-0 to reject the Oregon LNG pipeline. The County Commissioners concluded that Oregon LNG’s proposed 41-mile long, high-pressure gas pipeline violated the county’s land use laws on dozens of grounds. Oregon LNG claimed the Commissioners were biased, but the Oregon Court of Appeals rejected that argument.

The Oregon LNG company proposes building an LNG terminal in Warrenton, Oregon, and exporting North American natural gas to overseas markets. Among the project’s many impacts, the company proposes dredging a massive hole that spans 135 acres of the Columbia River in Youngs Bay — roughly the size of 102 football fields — for a turning basin to accommodate LNG tankers that would dock at the terminal. This area is the heart of what has historically been the most popular sport and commercial salmon fishing area on the Columbia River.  Oregon LNG’s dredging alone would destroy critical habitat for twelve stocks of endangered and threatened salmon and steelhead. The project also requires taking private property using eminent domain to build the gas pipeline from the United States-Canada border to Warrenton.

Today’s decision is the latest setback for the struggling LNG company. In August 2014, Oregon LNG filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Army Corps) over a property dispute. The Army Corps claims that it owns permanent rights to use the site of the proposed LNG terminal.  If a federal court upholds the Army Corps’ property right, Oregon LNG cannot build the terminal.

Currently, there are two proposals to locate LNG facilities on the Oregon Coast and the Columbia River, coupled with associated proposals to construct hundreds of miles of new natural gas pipelines throughout Oregon and Washington.