Pipeline draws ire from local landowner

For half a dozen years, retiree Bob Barker has fought tooth and nail to prevent a gas pipeline from being built across the picturesque Shady Cove retirement property he and his wife own on the Rogue River.

"I have always thought we have a reasonable shot of this project not being built," he said. "There are many factors that can come into play to stop it.

"But," he added, "there is no question in my mind that FERC will approve this application."

However, approval of the June 6 application by Pacific Connector Gas Pipeline LP of Salt Lake City to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which isn't expected until mid-2014 at the earliest, still would be a long way from shoveling dirt, he said.

"We landowners continue to be strongly opposed for a whole host of reasons," said Barker, 70, a retired health care industry executive and an Army veteran who served as a first lieutenant in the Vietnam War.

"We are concerned about the environment and our safety, as well as the use of eminent domain," he added. "And does it make a lot of sense to send our precious resources overseas?"

Pacific Connector now wants to export natural gas in the proposed pipeline stretching some 230 miles from Coos Bay through the Upper Rogue River watershed to Malin in southern Klamath County.

In 2009, FERC authorized the project, including a liquefied natural gas import terminal to be built at Jordan Cove near Coos Bay, that would have imported the natural gas. But it withdrew that authorization in April 2012 after project backers, citing the growing Asia-Pacific market, announced they wanted to export the gas instead of importing it as originally planned. The June 7 application is for exporting the gas.

The pipeline would link up with a proposed liquefied natural gas terminal at Coos Bay's Jordan Cove to the major natural gas transmission line at Malin near the California state line.

The Pacific Connector pipeline is jointly owned by Veresen Inc. and the Williams Co. based in Salt Lake City. Williams initially proposed the pipeline in 2006.

In a prepared statement, pipeline project manager Robert Peacock indicated the application illustrates the firm's commitment to the project.

"This filing marks a significant step forward for Pacific Connector," he said. "We look forward to continuing our collaboration with state and federal officials to bring this project to fruition."

At 3 feet in diameter, the underground pipeline would deliver as much as 1 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day, proponents said. The top of the pipe would be about 3 feet underground and would cross under the Upper Rogue River immediately upstream from the Barker home.

In addition to crossing a little more than 150 miles of private land, the pipeline would cross some 30 miles of national forest and 40 miles of U.S. Bureau of Land Management land.

Opponents say the pipeline would threaten the environment, become a safety hazard, and ignore the rights of private property owners who don't want it on their property.

Barker, who was an intervener on the side of the state of Oregon in a 2007 legal battle involving the pipeline project, noted that Oregon's senior U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden had expressed concern that exporting too much natural gas will simply drive up the cost of domestic prices.

"There is a real potential downside to users," Barker said. "And taking private property for the benefit of private corporations is a real concern. Of course, the environmental and safety concerns are still the same.

"We will be going through the process again. The difference is people are a lot more educated to the process."

The Pacific Connector pipeline would cost roughly $1.7 billion and pay an estimated $14.7 million each year in taxes to counties it crosses, according to Peacock. More than 1,000 construction jobs will be created for up to two years to build the pipeline, with a peak construction workforce of approximately 1,400, many of which will be hired locally, he added.

About 35 percent of the estimated 300 landowners whose property would be crossed by the pipeline have agreed to it, a company spokesman said.

If the project is approved, eminent domain could be employed, but project backers have stressed they would prefer to work with willing landowners.

Once the project clears all the hurdles, construction would begin in 2015 with the first delivery of natural gas to Jordan Cove in 2018, according to the company.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or email him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.

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