U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley on Wednesday pressed the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to schedule a meeting in Jackson County about a controversial natural gas pipeline proposal.
FERC scheduled public meetings in Coos, Klamath and Douglas counties, but none in Jackson County — where hundreds of opponents have attended past meetings about the 232-mile proposed pipeline through southwest Oregon. The pipeline would extend to a proposed export facility north of Coos Bay.
Oregon's senators, both Democrats, criticized several of FERC's moves in a letter to the agency's acting chair, Cheryl LaFleur.
Wyden and Merkley noted FERC scheduled meetings in three of the impacted counties.
"However, the pipeline proposal is set to cross through an additional county, Jackson County, in Southern Oregon," they said in the letter. "Given the environmental and property rights concerns of local citizens, at a bare minimum FERC should schedule public scoping meetings in every county affected by the construction of this proposed natural gas pipeline and facility. In order to give members of the public in affected communities the opportunity to voice their perspective regarding the project, we strongly believe that FERC must hold additional town meetings."
In asking for an additional meeting, the senators join the Jackson County Board of Commissioners and pipeline opponents, who last week asked for a meeting in Jackson County.
Wyden and Merkley also criticized FERC's plans to have people attending the public meetings take numbers and speak one-on-one with a court reporter, rather than talking in front of the whole crowd.
"We are concerned that meetings consisting of individual, one-on-one comments with a court reporter do not adequately respect the spirit of openness that Oregonians have come to expect from public meetings," the senators wrote.
The senators said that, between them, they have hosted more than 1,100 town hall meetings.
"These meetings are not always easy, but they are a necessary and critical component to directly engage our constituents and hear the concerns of Oregonians about issues affecting their communities," the senators wrote.
Wyden and Merkley asked FERC to extend the 30-day comment period that ends July 10, noting the one-month comment period falls far short of the 90 days typically given.
In addition, they urged FERC to consult with federally recognized tribes impacted by the project.
Neither senator has come out in opposition to the pipeline project and export facility, although both have said they do not support the use of eminent domain. The project would create construction jobs for several years along the pipeline route as well as permanent jobs at the export facility just north of financially struggling Coos Bay.
In 2016, FERC denied the pipeline and export facility project, saying there was little evidence to support a need for the pipeline, and any public benefits were outweighed by negative impacts to hundreds of landowners along its route.
The international energy company backing the Pacific Connector Pipeline and Jordan Cove export facility has said it is working to gain voluntary easements from landowners for use of their property.
The pipeline would be underground. No trees or structures such as houses or swimming pools could be over the pipeline. Plans call for drilling beneath the Rogue River near Shady Cove to create a pipeline crossing.
Last week, FERC’s Division of Media Relations said the agency is providing enough opportunities for public comment. People can submit comments via the internet, mail or attend the public comment sessions in person in Coos, Douglas and Klamath counties.
FERC is already familiar with the region affected by the project and the general concerns of landowners because of comments collected during earlier efforts to win approval for the project, the media relations division said.
“As a federal agency with finite resources, FERC must take these factors into consideration when making decisions to allocate staff resources,” the division said in a statement. “With all of this in mind, and with other options provided to the public to submit comments, staff determined that the three proposed sessions are sufficient.”
The three scheduled meetings are from 4 to 7 p.m. Tuesday, June 27, in the library and commons areas of Sunset Middle School, 245 S. Cammann St., Coos Bay; from 4 to 7 p.m. Wednesday, June 28, in rooms 11 and 12 of Jackson Hall at Umpqua Community College, 1140 Umpqua College Road, Roseburg; and from 4 to 7 p.m. Thursday, June 29, in the Mount Bailey and Mount Thielsen rooms of the College Union Building at the Oregon Institute of Technology, 3201 Campus Drive, Klamath Falls.
Comments can be submitted electronically by visiting ferc.gov, going to the Documents and Filings area and going to the eComment or eFiling feature. For help using the features, call 202-502-8258 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. The docket number for the pipeline and export facility project is PF17-4-000.
Comments that include the docket number can be mailed to Kimberly D. Bose, Secretary, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, 888 First St. N.E., Room 1A, Washington, D.C. 20426.