Timber company: Gas pipeline would hurt logging

A timber company says a proposed natural gas pipeline through Southern Oregon would reduce the number of trees it can grow and harvest, hurting the company financially and reducing an already scarce supply of timber for its sawmills. 

Eugene-based Seneca Jones Timber Co. filed a motion to intervene this month in the planning and approval process for the 229-mile underground pipeline that would cut through Klamath, Jackson, Douglas and Coos counties to a proposed export terminal on the coast. The company said it owns forest land in Coos and Douglas counties.

Motions to intervene were due this week for individuals, groups and companies that want to participate in a U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission review of the pipeline and export facility project. FERC is preparing an environmental impact statement about the Jordan Cove Energy Project export facility and Pacific Connector Gas Pipeline being proposed by a Canadian-headquartered company.

Those who file motions have the right to request a rehearing and can appeal final decisions to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, according to FERC.

More than 400 landowners, conservation groups, tribes, businesses, state agencies and others filed motions to intervene, according to project opponents.

Michael Hinrichs, spokesman for the project, said talks with Seneca Jones Timber Co. are continuing.

"Our land team has been working cooperatively with Seneca Jones for quite some time as we continue to address their concerns and advance discussions," he said. "We fully expect to reach an easement agreement with Seneca Jones that is equitable for both parties and addresses their concerns sufficiently."

The timber company voiced numerous concerns about the project in its motion to intervene.

If the pipeline is built, a 30-foot-wide corridor must be kept clear of trees, deep-rooted bushes and heavy structures such as houses and swimming pools, according to Jordan Cove.

The pipeline route would reduce acreage Seneca Jones has for growing and harvesting timber, which will reduce the amount of timber it can send to its sawmills and co-generation facility, the company said in its motion.

"Any reduction in these acres will reduce harvest levels, while our mill facilities still require the same level of fiber to maintain both customer needs and employee positions," the company wrote. "Over the years, the timber industry in Oregon has experienced devastating effects due to reduced harvest levels on public lands. This requires that we maintain adequate private timber-growing ground for our facilities."

Although Pacific Connector Gas Pipeline indicated it can adequately compensate the timber company's loss, the sawmills and cogeneration facility need wood — not cash — to continue long-term operations, Seneca Jones wrote.

The company said the pipeline project is offering only a one-time payment, even though it will continue to derive profits from sales of natural gas for years to come.

Highly flammable grass and brush will grow along the pipeline route, contributing to wildfire risk, and invasive species such as blackberries and Scotch broom will colonize the route, Seneca Jones said.

The timber company predicted firefighters would be hampered in using heavy equipment across the pipeline route.

Seneca Jones argues the pipeline should be built to the higher standards of pipelines in urban settings in order to protect valuable timber.

Among other concerns, the timber company worries the pipeline could reduce the value of its land and make it harder to sell in the future.

Veresen touts the economic benefits of the natural gas project, saying engineering, procurement and construction spending would be about $10 billion. The project would generate $60 million in annual property taxes, including $20 million in the pipeline counties, the company says.

About 6,000 workers would be employed during the construction phase, with about 200 permanent jobs created. Most of the permanent jobs would be associated with the export facility that would be located north of Coos Bay, according to Veresen.

— Reach staff reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/VickieAldous.

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