County Commissioners Have Coffee with Vernonians

Hyde says he’s not in favor of LNG project

CommissionersHydeBuxton-webAll three Columbia County Commissioners were on hand the morning of April 17 at a jam packed Black Iron Grill to have coffee and chat with Vernonia area citizens.

The visit was part of the Commissioners plan to visit each of the five cities in Columbia County to hear the concerns of the community.

The top item of concern was the proposed Oregon LNG and Oregon Pipeline projects, which was made obvious by the large number of red shirted activists in the room.

When asked what reasons they could site for supporting the LNG plant and pipeline which would transport natural gas across Columbia County, Commissioner Tony Hyde reversed previous statements he had made that indicated support of the project and stated he now believes the project has no reason for the support of the Board of Commissioners.

Hyde explained that the Commissioners have had several presentations about the proposed project over the last six years, which  Hyde called “purely conjecture,” and included the possibility of the gas line passing through the Mist fields and using storage facilities in that area in Columbia County.  Hyde then made the following statement to applause from the audience,  “What we found out recently was that this gas line that is going to the proposed ‘Baby Baghdad in the Bay,’ for lack of a better term, is not going to Mist field and has no reason for our support.”

Hyde went on to say that he did not believe the LNG plant, proposed to be constructed in Warrenton, will ever be built. “I know the Commissioners in Clatsop County don’t support it and that the citizens, experiencing a renaissance during the last decade in Astoria, are very reticent.”

Hyde added that he has had several conversations with local constituents which has helped add to his knowledge of the project and helped sway his opinion.

When asked if the Columbia County Board of Commissioners will take policy action and publicly oppose the project, Hyde backed off and said all three Commissioners have not discussed the issue as a Board.  

Commissioner Henry Heimuller reiterated that the project as currently proposed is different than what he originally understood it to be, but said he could not commit to publicly opposing the project.  “Right now I’m in research mode,” said Heimuller.  “I think there is more information to be had. We know what the potential risks are, but we don’t know what the potential values are. Personally, if this is not going to utilize our infrastructure and we aren’t going to get anything out of it that is going to benefit the taxpayers of Columbia County, I’m not going to be supportive.”

CommissionersEarlFisher-web Commissioner Earl Fisher told the audience that the job of the Commissioners is to listen to all their constituents, not just the groups that show up and yell at them.  “I don’t know enough about this issue to make a decision.  You have an opinion and I’m sure there are some other opinions.  As a decision maker I need to listen to both sides.  If I don’t, I’m not serving you well.”

The discussion about the LNG projects monopolized a good portion of the discussion with audience members voicing their concerns about possible impacts to water quality and Vernonia’s drinking water, the potential for devastating fires if there was an accident, the general safety of pipelines and the gas industry, the lack of transparency by the project’s financial backers, and the responsibility of the Commissioners to look out for the welfare and common good of the citizens of Columbia County.

CommissionersMikePihlHeimuller-webThe Commissioners also discussed Ballot Measure 5-243, which would increase the Natural Resources Depletion tax (and specifically targets the gravel industry in the county)  to provide revenue to maintain county roads and fund the Columbia County Rider public transportation system. Local business owner Mike Pihl told the Commissioners and the audience that if the increase passes it would impact his business and he might be forced to purchase rock for road building from Washington County instead of supporting local Columbia County businesses.  “We need to exercise common sense and I’m going to vote no on it,” said Pihl.

Hyde told the audience that Columbia County is the only county in the state that taxes aggregate, which currently funds road maintenance.  Hyde said he is very concerned about setting a precedent of taxing a specific industry when the county has a compelling need.  “There is no doubt in my mind that we have a compelling need,” said Hyde.  “I think our transit system and the way it serves our citizens and particularly our senior citizens, is an important issue for us.  We do have to find a way to be responsible enough to fund it.  But just to go after an industry because there is an opportunity to tax them on what they produce, I think is very dangerous. What’s next-timber?”

Heimuller and Fisher agreed with Hyde.  Heimuller stated that he is in favor of road projects and that he has a passion for public transit.

When asked how they fund the transportation system if the ballot measure is rejected, Heimuller said many public transit systems are funded through a special tax district and tax all property owners to pay for operations.  Others use a business tax on all businesses. Heimuller did not expound on other options for funding public transit.

When asked about a proposed moratorium on marijuana dispensaries in Columbia County, Commissioner Hyde explained that the County is waiting for the state to establish guidelines for where retail marijuana sales will be allowed.  “We’re not trying to stop marijuana consumption in Columbia County,” said Hyde.  “The people of this state have spoken, on both medical marijuana in the 1990s and on recreational last year.”  Hyde went on to say that they have heard complaints about grow operations from neighboring properties.  Hyde said a temporary moratorium on medical dispensaries and retail establishments would allow time for the state to formulate specific guidelines and doesn’t impact the 975 medical marijuana card holders or the 768 licensed medical marijuana growers in the county.   Hyde confirmed that the county moratorium only effects unincorporated areas of the county. Hyde added that the state is considering dispensing marijuana through liquor stores.