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Pipeline

Jackson County Commissioners say a proposed natural gas pipeline through Southern Oregon is too risky.  Photo of a Canadian pipeline provided by Pembina.

MEDFORD — The Jackson County Board of Commissioners is telling the federal government a proposed natural gas pipeline through Southern Oregon violates environmental laws and provides only short term economic benefits for the Rogue Valley.

Commissioners Rick Dyer, Colleen Roberts and Bob Strosser said they unanimously oppose the project in a letter sent this month to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which is reviewing the project.

They asked FERC to deny the proposal for a 229-mile underground pipeline that is intended to connect a Malin area hub to a Coos County export terminal.

The Canadian company Pembina hopes to ship Canadian and American natural gas overseas, primarily to Asian markets.

Pembina said in a Tuesday statement it has received a copy of the commissioners’ comments.

“We’re reviewing these along with many other comments of note and look forward to addressing them in upcoming meetings with the Commission,” Pembina said.

A public comment period closed Friday for a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission draft environmental impact statement on the Jordan Cove Pacific Connector Gas Pipeline project.

Regulation changes

Commissioners pointed out Pembina is offering assurances the project won’t harm the environment because it will follow environmental laws — but Pembina is asking for regulations to be changed.

Pembina wants exemptions to federal regulations meant to protect soil, riparian areas, rare species, old-growth forests and productive timberland, according to the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management.

“If the agencies must amend their environmental rules to allow the project, then it is perplexing how the laws and regulations of those agencies will somehow limit impacts,” the commissioners said in their letter.

The commissioners said the project directly violates a Jackson County law calling for riparian areas to be replanted after a disturbance.

The pipeline corridor must be kept clear of trees to avoid damage to the pipe.

Property owners along the route could not build houses, barns, pools or other heavy structures over the pipe.

Commissioners said pipeline representatives claimed they checked with Jackson County and found no large-scale buildings planned within a quarter-mile of the route.

‘Misleading’

Commissioners said those claims are “misrepresented and misleading,” and the county has no record of the company asking for that information.

Commissioners and landowners opposed to the project worry property could be used against the will of owners through the eminent domain process.

“To allow the taking of their private land to benefit a Canadian corporation does not meet the criteria of being for public benefit,” the commissioners said.

Pembina previously said it has voluntary use agreements with 75% of landowners along the route. It has offered minimum payments of $30,000.

The commissioners said the project will create jobs in Jackson County, but most are temporary construction jobs. Once those jobs dry up, positive economic ripple effects would also disappear.

“Businesses may employ extra staff and then have to cut those positions,” the commissioners said.

The commissioners said construction workers temporarily in the area would strain the housing supply.

“We may as such see an increase in the need for social services and resources to combat more homelessness,” they said.

County income

Pembina has touted the economic benefits of the $9.8 billion construction project, which would generate more than $5.3 million annually in property taxes for Jackson County government, schools, fire departments and other local agencies.

Workers in the trades have spoken out in favor of the project, which they said would provide good-paying jobs with benefits.

During excavation for the pipeline, commissioners said a requirement to place dirt and rocks at least 10 feet from waterway edges is “woefully inadequate” to stop soil from getting into the water.

They noted most of the work would have to occur in dry months to lessen impacts on streams — increasing the risk of a construction-sparked wildfire.

“Wildfire smoke has hampered recreation and tourism activity in our county for the past two years. Economically speaking, the citizens of Jackson County cannot risk their financial well-being for this project that may result in a conflagration of fires during peak wildfire season,” commissioners said.

The commissioners said plans to test the 3-foot-diameter pipeline’s strength by filling it with water would use water needed for irrigation, firefighting and livestock. Drawing down water in lakes and reservoirs could also trigger toxic algae blooms and harm fish.

If the pipeline failed due to an equipment breakdown, vandalism or terrorism, commissioners said there is no guarantee Pembina would pay to restore the area.

The commissioners pointed to the example of PG&E, which filed for bankruptcy protection after a power line sparked a wildfire that destroyed Paradise, California, and killed at least 85 people in 2018.