COOS COUNTY — After months of controversy, county residents seeking to pass a ballot measure that targeted the Jordan Cove liquid natural gas export terminal and Pacific Connector Gas Pipeline projects were met with a resounding “no” on Tuesday night.
Measure 6-162, which its petitioners dubbed “The Coos County Right to a Sustainable Energy Future Ordinance,” failed to garner even a quarter of the vote, losing by nearly 50 percentage points in the county's most expensive election campaign to date.
Initial results showed “no” votes led “yes” votes 9,465 to 2,935, effectively capturing 76 percent of cast ballots.
A portion of county votes have yet to be counted.
The polarizing measure, which garnered national attention, would have prohibited the transportation of fossil fuels within the county as well as the development of any "non-sustainable" energy systems, particularly hydraulic and pneumatic fracturing.
The ban would not have applied to infrastructure already in place such as on-site heating or affect fuel for vehicles.
On Tuesday night, Joe Benetti, Coos Bay’s mayor and a sitting member on the Save Coos Jobs Committee — the measure’s opposition group — praised the county voters’ decision.
“I’m glad that the voters were understanding of the issue and voted correctly,” he said. “This ballot measure was not a good measure by any means, and I think (the voters) were able to see that.”
Mary Geddry, the proposed ordinance’s co-sponsor expressed surprise regarding the night’s results.
“We thought we’d do better than this,” she said, adding that the shear disparity in campaign funding ultimately proved too large to overcome. “I guess the last $400,000 really made a difference; it’s hard to say.”
Save Coos Jobs received more than $600,000 in campaign contributions, with nearly all of it coming from Jordan Cove, a Calgary-based energy firm owned by Veresen and Pembina Pipeline Corp.
The committee utilized those funds to conduct a county-wide ad blitz in the days leading up to the election. The campaign also invested heavily in canvassing efforts as well as polling and focus groups run by companies based out of Portland.
Conversely, Yes on Measure 6-162 received $13,460 in cash and in-kind donations and spent just over $5,000, largely on local print and online advertising.
“I wonder what our state representatives like Merkley, Wyden and DeFazio would say when a foreign corporation could just come and get its own personal action committee and buy an election,” Geddry said.
Benetti took exception to this narrative when speaking to The World last week.
“(Our) committee was formed by locals — this was the intent — and we were fortunate enough to get the money from Jordan Cove, which allowed us to go out and campaign against this (measure) immediately,” he said.
A major criticism of the measure throughout the election cycle has been its constitutionality and that, if passed, would result in lawsuits the county would be forced to defend.
Its opponents have ranged from the Bay Area Chamber of Commerce, the Port of Coos Bay, all three county commissioners and the Coos Curry Farm Bureau.
On Tuesday, most local voters questioned by The World stated their confusion at what exactly the measure would accomplish and seemed skeptical of its authors’ intent.
“I didn't understand the energy measure,” Peter Cooley said. “It was kind of wishful thinking.”
Laurie Hill, who said she was against Jordan Cove, said she still voted against the measure.
“It was not written well,” she said. “From everything I've read it would be in the courts if it passes anyway so it would be a big waste of money.”
Kelly Wolfe agreed that the measure could have been written better.
“I thought my answer would be more straight forward for the energy measure but it was so poorly written, which made it difficult to discern on what you needed to put in order to support what you support,” she said. “That was my biggest concern with the ballot. I had to check in with the front (desk) to make sure I was interpreting it (correctly).”
Geddry said she was still mulling making another attempt at bringing a similar measure to bear in the next election cycle.
Her name is already attached to a 2018 statewide ballot measure which seeks to amend Oregon’s State Constitution.
"I believe in democracy and we have to fight for it," she said. "We'll make 'em spend $4 million next time."
Reporter Jillian Ward contributed to this story.