COOS BAY — Some environmental groups are trying to halt the deepening of the Port of Coos Bay.
Thursday, the Oregon Supreme Court agreed to review a petition from environmental groups challenging a Court of Appeals opinion, which upheld the Department of State Lands’ (DSL) decision to issue a permit crucial to the Jordan Cove LNG project as well as access for larger ships.
In 2011, the DSL authorized the Port of Coos Bay to dredge 1.75 million cubic yards to create a marine terminal.
Petitioners to that decision filed an appeal over concerns “that DSL had failed to grapple with the risks and harms to the aquatic environment from building and operating a major fossil fuel terminal in Coos Bay.”
The Court of Appeals heard oral arguments in March of 2015. More than two years later, in Coos Waterkeeper v. Port of Coos Bay, the Court of Appeals rejected the challenge and upheld the permit.
The Sierra Club, Greenpeace and Friends of Living Oregon Waters are the petitioners calling for the review by the Oregon Supreme Court.
They argue that the Court of Appeals ruling misinterprets Oregon’s removal-fill statute.
Jan Hasselman, an attorney at Earthjustice who’s representing the environmental groups, said the Supreme Court’s decision to hear the appeal is encouraging.
“We’re very encouraged, the Oregon Supreme Court only takes around one out of every 12 cases that comes before it,” Hasselman said, “So we think this is a good sign.”
The Oregon Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on Jan 18.
“The legal rationale upheld by the court of appeals doesn’t make sense under the law and it doesn’t work for the people of Oregon and we look forward to the opportunity to have the Supreme Court weigh in,” Hasselman said, “It comes down to this question of what is the appropriate scope of the department’s review when it has a big project like this.”
He said the DSL needs to look at the broader environmental impacts that the natural gas export facility could pose.
“If it’s authorizing the terminal it needs to look at the environmental impacts of building and operating that thing,” Hasselman said, “What are the impacts of this shipping on the ecology of Coos Bay?”
The issue is one mired in controversy.
Local activist Mary Geddry said Coos County citizens are the ones who have to live with the consequences if the pipeline were to be built.
“The main issue for us is that the regulators almost always side in favor of the industry and the community has literally no say in what happens in their own backyard,” Geddry said.
The Port of Coos Bay said it has no comment at this time.