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Pipeline foes: 'We're all in the same fight'

Southern Oregon opponents of a proposed natural gas pipeline and export facility have joined forces with Colorado drilling opponents in their battle against the project.

“We’re all in the same fight,” said Colorado activist Pete Kolbenschlag, part of a contingent of local and Colorado residents touring areas that would be affected by the project.

Kolbenschlag said drilling in Colorado has impacted rural areas, including farms and vineyards, and is now encroaching on urban areas, bringing odors, noise, unsightly drilling infrastructure and environmental impacts.

The proposed 229-mile pipeline through southwest Oregon would tap into existing inland pipe networks, providing a path for Canadian and American natural gas to reach a proposed export terminal on the coast at Jordan Cove north of Coos Bay. The natural gas would be shipped overseas, primarily to Asia.

Building the pipeline and export terminal would increase demand for Colorado natural gas, triggering more drilling in that state, Kolbenschlag said.

He said Colorado and Oregon residents need to understand they all will be impacted.

“When we start to think how we’re connected, it gives us strength,” he said.

Colorado and Southern Oregon opponents of the project gathered on the property of Shady Cove resident Bob Barker on Wednesday to tell each other how it could affect their communities. Barker’s land is adjacent to the Rogue River.

The Canadian company Pembina Pipeline Corp. wants to cross Barker’s property and then the Rogue River with the underground pipe.

This month, the company sent a letter to the 225 impacted Southern Oregon landowners offering a minimum payment of $30,000 for use of their land.

Shady Cove resident Stacey McLaughlin, whose ridgeline property is on the pipeline route, said the $30,000 offer is like a bribe.

“It’s not an incentive to me at all. It is sad to me that this company thinks that our love of our land has something to do with money and not about the sanctity and the integrity of the Oregon outdoors,” she said.

McLaughlin, who grew up in Colorado, said the increasing number of gas fields has become a problem.

She believes the pipeline will primarily transport Canadian gas, not Colorado gas, disrupting the lives and property of American landowners without much economic benefit for the United States.

Pembina said in the letter it is making the $30,000 minimum offer because it understands property owners have concerns about safety, environmental protection and the company’s long-term role in the community.

“We’re taking this step after looking at the history of the project, and our understanding of the concerns of landowners. We think this incentive payment is the right thing to do — a significant and meaningful payment for Right of Way access,” the company said in the letter.

Some landowners have multiple tracts of land. A person with three tracts, for example, would be paid $90,000, said project spokesman Michael Hinrichs.

Landowners have until Dec. 31 to accept the offer.

Property owners who previously agreed to allow right-of-way access for the pipeline will receive the payment retroactively, the company said in the letter.

If the project doesn’t proceed, Pembina will relinquish the rights to use land and the property owners can keep the payment, the letter said.

“Pembina believes this Pre-Approval Incentive Payment demonstrates our commitment to doing right by all landowners along the pipeline route. It also will help us make progress on what we believe is an important project for economic development and job creation in southern Oregon,” the letter said.

McLaughlin said the company wants to win right-of-way permission from landowners so it will have a better chance of persuading the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to approve the project.

FERC previously denied the project under the Obama administration, saying potential harms outweighed potential benefits.

Across Southern Oregon, many landowners are concerned about pipeline construction and route maintenance disrupting their property. Trees have to be kept clear along the path, and property owners can’t construct heavy structures such as pools and buildings over the pipeline.

On the environmental side, opponents worry about potential impacts to waterways crossed by the pipeline, pollution emissions from the export facility near Coos Bay and contributions to climate-warming gases.

But Pembina says the project represents a $10 billion capital investment in the Oregon economy. The project will support several thousand temporary construction jobs along the pipeline route, plus about 200 permanent jobs, primarily at the export facility on the coast.

The company says the pipeline also will generate millions of dollars in property tax revenue in the counties it crosses, including Jackson County.

Backers of the energy industry in Colorado say it’s a boost to the economy and generates property tax revenue to support local government services.

Unlike the drilling opponents, Rose Pugliese — a Mesa County commissioner in Colorado — said the energy industry has been positive for the local economy.

Colorado is home to the Piceance Basin, a geologic feature rich in natural gas, coal and oil shale reserves.

“I personally think gas development is very positive. Eight of our 10 largest taxpayers are energy companies,” Pugliese said in a phone interview from Colorado. “The energy industry has a significant positive impact on our economy.”

She said many energy industry workers and their families live in Mesa County. Energy development helps diversify the economy.

Pugliese said she supports the pipeline and export facility in Southern Oregon because it would open more export markets for Colorado gas.

“Colorado is a leader in doing development in a very safety-conscious way. We’re working on mitigating impacts to neighbors. We’re excited about potential jobs from exporting our natural gas to Japan,” she said.

Using natural gas in China, another potential export market, could help clean up that country’s air, Pugliese said.

As in Jackson County, the majority of land in Mesa County is under federal ownership.

The federal land in Mesa County should be used for multiple purposes, including outdoor recreation and energy development, Pugliese said.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.

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