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Dave Lohman, a Medford land use attorney, expresses concern to about 50 people protesting a proposed pipeline from Coos Bay to Malin on East Main Street Thursday. - Jamie Lusch

PROPERTY RIGHTS

About 50 opponents of a proposed natural gas pipeline from Coos Bay to Malin gathered in Medford early Thursday afternoon to speak out against "fast track" legislation they fear will run roughshod over private property rights.

Holding signs reading "My Land — My Decision" and "Protect Property Rights," the protestors say they want to stop state House Bills 2589 and 2206 and Senate Bills 265 and 261, fearing they would allow gas companies or other applicants to conduct work on private property without the owner's consent.

"All these bills do pretty much the same thing: they allow an applicant to apply for a permit to work on your property without your knowledge or consent," explained Bob Barker of Shady Cove, whose property along the upper Rogue River would be crossed by the pipeline.

"This is something that should be of concern to all Oregonians," he added. "This is not just about this pipeline. I hope our legislators will protect the rights of property owners in Oregon, regardless how they feel about these particular projects."

The protest was held on the sidewalk near the Pacific Connector Gas Pipeline office.

Williams Pacific Connector Gas Operator, a Salt Lake City firm, is proposing the project along with Pacific Gas & Electric Corp. and Fort Chicago Energy Partners.

Messages left Thursday afternoon by the Mail Tribune with project manager Derrick Welling in Salt Lake City were not returned by press time.

Initially proposed in 2005, the 234-mile pipeline would transport imported gas from the proposed Jordan Cove terminal near Coos Bay through Coos, Douglas, Jackson and Klamath counties to Malin. At three feet in diameter, the underground pipeline would deliver as much as one billion cubic feet of natural gas per day, proponents say.

Company representatives have repeatedly stressed the project is safe and not a threat to the environment or landowners.

The Portland-based Energy Action Northwest, a business and labor coalition promoting energy development, came out in support of the project's preliminary approval by federal regulators last fall.

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

Like the land the pipeline would cross, the opponents represent a broad spectrum of Oregon, said Azalea resident Diane Phillips, founder of Oregon Citizens Against the Pipeline.

"We are a diverse group — Democrats, Republicans, all sorts," she said Thursday afternoon.

"We have ranchers and farmers and students and environmentalists and fishermen who say the pipeline is bad for Southern Oregon," rally organizer Monica Vaughan said.

"Current state laws protects property rights in this instance," she continued. "But this company and other gas companies want to change the law so companies can apply for a permit on your land without your knowledge and without your consent."

She urged those attending the rally to contact their local state representatives and senators to urge them to reject the bills.

Land use attorney Dave Lohman of Medford noted that no state or federal natural resource agency has thus far issued a permit for the project.

He also noted that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has delayed for nearly a year a decision regarding the state's request for reconsideration of FERC's preliminary approval of the project.

The point, he said, is that the lack of a fast-track law is not holding back the project.

"In sum, this legislation isn't needed and it hurts Oregon landowners," he said, calling the proposed pipeline an "unnecessary risk" for the residents of Jackson County because of the potential for explosions.

"If a person anywhere near the proposed pipeline tries to sell their property, they must disclose the fact there is a government study that could affect the value of the property," said real estate agent Richard Chasm of Roseburg. "What buyer is going to buy into a lawsuit and these kinds of troubles?

"We don't need this," he added. "It is the wrong direction for the economic future of this state."

In addition to the property rights issue, Lesley Adams, program director for Rogue Riverkeepers, an affiliate of the Ashland-based Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, opposes the project because of the potential environmental impact.

"I am very concerned about the impact to salmon and water quality from this pipeline," she said, noting the pipeline would cross nearly 400 streams.

Last year, then Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski expressed concern about the project, citing unresolved issues around the Energy Policy Act of 2005, specifically the Coastal Zone Management Act, the Clean Air Act and the Federal Water Pollution Control Act.

Newly elected Gov. John Kitzhaber has not yet had time to examine the issue, according to spokeswoman Amy Wojcicki.

Meanwhile, the agency is continuing to review the rehearing request, FERC spokesman Craig Cano said Thursday. He noted FERC often takes considerable time in considering a rehearing request on major projects.

FERC chairman Jon Wellinghoff was the only one on the four-member panel to vote against the project.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or e-mail pfattig@mailtribune.com.

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