NORTH BEND — Wind whips through Larry Mangan’s tuft of white hair as he angles his all-terrain vehicle down the dirt road of his ranch near the edge of Haynes Inlet.
The scents of saltwater, mud, blooming wildflowers and the nearby grazing cattle blend together, creating an aroma that hints at the Spring to come.
“That’s where we think they are gonna put it,” Larry says, making a line with his weathered finger from the edge of the water, across the green pasture to the looming pine-covered hills in the west.
Tucked within this cozy pocket of bucolic ranch land just off Coos Bay is a microcosm of the conflicts to come as the Jordan Cove Energy Project moves forward.
The 69-year-old former Bureau of Land Management wildlife biologist of 35 years, and his wife, Sylvia, a retired Coos County Health Department nurse for 20 years, own property directly in the path of the Pacific Connector Gas Pipeline.
While the damage that would come from installing the several hundred feet of pipe needed to cross their land would be minimal, for these retired public servants, the mere thought of the pipeline’s potential presence is nothing short of tragedy.
“The land repairs itself after a while. In two or three years you won’t see much of that even if they have to take some trees, and they will, there’s no question about it,” Larry says, before taking a deep breath to steady his shaky voice. “People say it’s just a scar but to us, it’s an insult. It’s like taking a Thomas Moran painting and ripping a strip down it.”
The Mangan’s are one of roughly 200 landowners dispersed across Coos, Douglas, Jackson and Klamath counties that Jordan Cove and pipeline representatives need to sign voluntary easement agreements allowing construction.
Currently, the liquid natural gas firm owned by Calgary, Alberta based Veresen Inc., has a little more than 100 landowner signatures out of 290.
Jordan Cove spokesman Michael Hinrichs said the number of signees had doubled from 54 owners since the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) announced in December it would not consider a re-hearing of its March 11 decision denying permission to build the 235-mile-long, 36-inch diameter interstate LNG pipeline that would end in an export terminal in Jordan Cove.
He said about 40 percent of the land required to complete the project are privately owned.
“There is a lot of misinformation about how many landowners oppose the project,” he said in an interview over the phone. “I like to emphasize that’s not true, only certain landowners do.”
Since their FERC denial, Jordan Cove has gone to great lengths to tout the changes made to the project as a way to ameliorate public skepticism and opposition.
Some of the changes include the elimination of a 400-megawatt power plant, moving workforce housing to the North Spit, creating 100-acres of mitigated coho-salmon habitat, pipeline reroutes to minimize the use of eminent domain and redoubled efforts to prevent environmental impacts in areas like Haynes Inlet.
Hinrichs said a mile had been added to the pipeline just to avoid oyster beds within the inlet.
The move led to the proposed crossing of the Mangan’s ranch.
Surveyors for Jordan Cove have tried to gain access to the property but were rebuffed.
Representatives for Veresen have also approached the couple with a proposal to create wildlife habitat as part of the mitigation project.
Again, Larry and Sylvia refused, even though in the past they allowed the creation of several acres of habitat for coho, marbled murrelet — a small endangered seabird — and other wildlife as a mitigation project for the Southwest Oregon Regional Airport.
“They’re not allowed on our property,” Larry says. “We’ve made it really clear — tried to be respectful — but clear. No amount of money could change our mind. Money is not an issue.”
One facet of the project that is an issue, however, is safety.
“I don’t want a 1,000-foot long pipe bomb 500 feet from my house,” Sylvia says.
Betsy Spomer, president and CEO of Jordan Cove, said at the project’s open house at the Mill Casino on Tuesday that those concerns are overblown.
“We have had a tremendous safety record, now there have been accidents but there’s 2.4-million miles of natural gas pipelines in the United States and there will be an incident every so often but generally it’s because the pipes are old and corroded or not maintained properly.”
She said the proposed pipeline would be state-of-the art, reinforced with extra layers of steel and buried under three to five feet of earth.
"(An explosion) is just very unlikely.”
The Mangan’s remain skeptical, arguing a minor earthquake to a full-blown Cascadia Subduction Zone catastrophe threatens to shear the state-of-the-art steel pipeline in multiple places.
“This entire land is Pleistocene sand dunes with about 10 feet of soil on them,” Larry explained. “Now, they’ve stabilized a little with the tree growth but if a big [earthquake] came, this land could slip two or three feet into the estuary zone and there’s no way around designing a pipeline that won’t be affected by it.”
Jordan Cove officials say that the pipeline will be equipped with automatic leak detection systems and shut off valves.
"You also need an ignition source [for an explosion]," Spomer said.
At the safety booth for the open house at the casino on Tuesday, spokespersons claimed that all the project’s critical structures and foundations were designed to resist a 9.3 magnitude earthquake — the maximum recorded event for the area — along with the accompanying soil liquefaction.
“We don’t necessarily have any concerns about our standards of approach and statutory and regulatory compliance,” said Mick Rowlands, civil structural and architectural liaison for Jordan Cove. “Good engineering practices will ensure the safety and integrity of the facility. We have no doubt about that.”
Rowlands said the sandy soil was actually a benefit for the terminal’s and pipeline’s design.
“Sand in itself as a bearing stratum is really very good, it’s excellent in fact,” he explained. “The only issue that we have with it is liquefaction — an earthquake can essentially turn the soil from a really good bearing stratum to almost a liquid.”
Rowlands said engineers and geologists had identified the layer where the liquefaction would occur and begun taking measures to densify the soil to prevent such an event from occurring. “So sand is an excellent bearing stratum for us, not like clay or silt found in the Gulf of Mexico, which are horrible.”
According to Spomer, the project's safety is tantamount to its success.
“Fundamentally, we know — and we’re all engineers around here — this can be built safely,” she said. “So if people are open to learning, we can demonstrate that and we've built a lot of facilities in places that are a lot more difficult than this.”
Even if the project’s safety were to come with an indelible guarantee, the Mangan’s, sitting together in front of their small bird-watching cabin beside Haynes Inlet, would still stand staunchly against it.
“If by some miraculous outcome that we are fortunate enough to convince them not to build this on our property, we would definitely be fighting this for the community,” Sylvia says. “It’s not a healthy-minded public project — and I’ve worked with the highest risk individuals in Coos County for 20 years — I know how many low-income, needy and challenged people live in this community. So my heart goes out to the economy and the jobs but they need to find something that is better balanced and positive for the whole community.”
The retired nurse pauses as a flock of Canadian geese fly overhead, their calls echoing across the surrounding hillsides.
She grips Larry’s arm tightly.
“More and more, we are starting to notice all the things that would be taken from us.”