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It was standing room only as more than 300 people turned out for a public hearing Monday night on the proposed Jordan Cove LNG gas pipeline.

It was the first of five public hearings by the Oregon Department of State Lands (DSL) across the state where the pipeline will run from Malin to Coos Bay.

People turned up at the Klamath Community College commons building on a snowy night, wearing pseudo-uniforms, T-shirts and hats to show their support or opposition to the project.

Any individual could speak on the record for a maximum of two minutes in front of the large crowd and eight DSL staff led by Vicki Walker, Oregon state director, and a former Oregon state senator.

About 60 signed up to speak, ranging in age from senior citizens to as young as 9 years old.

Unified voices, clothing

Those in opposition, including many members of Klamath Tribes, wore red in solidarity, some with anti-pipeline messages pinned to their backs.

Many of those in favor wore fluorescent green hats matching the look of construction safety vests. Some traveled great distances to speak, such as union representatives and construction experts, about the project’s employment and economic benefits.

The Jordan Cove Energy Project is a $10 billion effort to build a natural gas pipeline from a hub near Malin to a proposed storage facility and export terminal in Coos Bay to provide liquefied natural gas to foreign markets.

The hub and terminal would connect thousands of miles of existing natural gas pipelines stretching as far away as Canada and the Midwest to an ocean port for international cargo ship transport.

Currently, the DSL is considering the project’s removal-fill permit application, a requirement for developments that result in soils being removed or added to wetlands and waterways.

The project in current design is expected to cross 485 waterways, which can range in definition from major rivers down to creeks, irrigation ditches, and even dry lakes. Environmental regulations require its design to be capable of withstanding earthquakes as strong as a magnitude 9.0 in the Cascadia zone.

Groundbreaking could come in 2020

Jordan Cove has sparked protests and opposition campaigns in its development, which still awaits numerous permit approvals throughout 2019 for an estimated 2020 groundbreaking. If all permits are approved, the pipeline and export terminal could be fully functional by 2024, according to Michael Hinrichs, manager of media and communications for Jordan Cove LNG.

It is expected to generate around $6 million annually for Klamath County in tax revenue alone.

The company behind the project is Pembina, a Canadian corporation with a safety record that is the envy of the industry, Hinrichs said. An American subsidiary was created, Jordan Cove LNG LLC, to establish offices regionally to handle aspects of the project’s development and operation.

Jordan Cove has been active regionally, providing thousands in community grants for specific projects including funds designated for the city of Malin. The company has also provided over $150,000 in campaign contributions to political candidates across the state, including several who testified in favor of the project on Monday evening — a potential conflict of interest that was not lost on Jordan Cove’s critics.

Among its strongest opponents are the Klamath Tribes, environmental groups, and local landowners, who fear repercussions environmentally and culturally from the pipeline’s construction, and the after-effects should a catastrophic event ever result in a leak.

Hearings remain calm

For a contentious topic that has sparked great emotion from opponents, the proceedings were surprisingly calm, every individual afforded the opportunity to cordially speak without harassment.

“This project will not benefit the people of Oregon, tribes, or state of Oregon,” said Perry Chocktoot, Klamath Tribal Council member and among the first to speak. “It threatens wildlife, water, and will dig up our ancestors and disrupt migratory birds.”

Many of those dressed in red shared Chocktoot’s sentiment, citing concerns such as possible water contamination, impact on wildlife, destruction of old growth forests to clear a path for the pipeline, natural gas impact on climate change, and what could happen should a rupture occur. Of those who provided public comments, roughly two-thirds were opposed to the pipeline — most of which were local residents.

Opponents

Groups opposed to the project included the local chapter of the League of Women Voters, representatives of down-river tribes, environmental groups, concerned citizen groups, a commercial fishermen union representative, a wildlife habitat biologist, and multiple members of the Klamath Tribes Youth Council.

“The liquid moving through this pipeline is caustic and will cause damage to everything in the future,” said Taylor Tupper, Klamath Tribes public relations officer. “When will these outsiders know that when the waters are poisoned and the last fish is caught that money cannot be eaten.”

“I adamantly oppose this pipeline,” said Bonnie Nork, a Klamath Falls resident. “I am so disappointed to hear so many elected officials supporting this. Putting profits over people must stop. Will any of them be held accountable when something goes wrong? History says no.”

Janice Miller summed up the opinions of those opposed more bluntly, “Please go back to Canada and ruin your own land.”

Proponents

The first to speak in favor of the project were Klamath County Commissioner Derrick DeGroot and State Rep. E. Werner Reschke. Malin Mayor Gary Zieg also expressed unanimous support on behalf of himself and the Malin City Council.

Others to speak in favor of Jordan Cove included representatives of the Klamath County Chamber of Commerce, numerous union representatives from across the Pacific Northwest, the Klamath County Republican Central Committee, and Del Fox of Dairy who read a letter submitted by State Sen. Dennis Linthicum.

“Pipelines are not a new phenomenon for Klamath County,” Reschke stated. “I believe the applicant has met the requirements for the permit for safety and use of proven methods to avoid impact to environment and wildlife. I am not alone in requesting this permit to be approved tonight.”

“Our board voted unanimously to support this project,” added Klamath County Chamber of Commerce Director Heather Tramp. “We represent over 500 businesses that also support it.”

Proponents touted an annual economic boost of roughly $60 million regionally, high-paying, full-time jobs and modern safety standards and construction tools that greatly reduce the environmental impact.

“It is very important to this region, and I know they are working diligently to meet all environmental standards,” said Robert Kingzett.

“We have pipelines with excellent safety records, and drilling techniques are effective in not impacting the environment. This means 200 or more jobs along the pipeline and at the terminal. It will be the biggest positive boost since the Great Recession a decade ago. This project has high return for modest risk undertaken.”

To submit a comment

A decision by DSL on the removal-fill permit application will be rendered after all hearings and the public comment period concludes. People may also submit comments via email at jordancove@dsl.state.or.us, via fax at 503-378-4844, or by mail to Oregon Department of State Lands, 775 Summer St. NE, Suite 100, Salem, OR 97301. A web form for submitting comments is also available at https://bit.ly/2BRU9pi.

Public comments about the Jordan Cove removal-fill permit application will continue to be accepted until Feb. 3 at 5 p.m.

email kliedtke@heraldandnews.com @kliedtkeHN

Staff reporter for the Herald and News.