The road to building a natural-gas import terminal on the North Spit is nearly four years long, even by the estimates of its supporters. Along the way are the required public forums for planners to share their proposals with the communities nearby, to accept cheers or brickbats for their plans.
On Wednesday night, more than 70 people filled the council chamber at Coos Bay City Hall for the most extensive forum yet on the Jordan Cove Energy Project. As speakers from the federal and state regulatory groups - and Bob Braddock, managing the project for the Colorado-based Energy Products Development - outlined the schedule of studies and reviews in line through 2008, audience members responded politely but cautiously, their muted response reflecting the holding pattern in which the terminal project will find itself for the next several months.
The two-hour meeting was the hub of a public comment period opened by the Oregon Department of Energy after Energy Products filed a notice of intent to apply for a state building permit; that period will continue through Feb. 10. The notice is not itself an application to build.
Under Energy Products' proposal, the firm would erect a dock, storage tank and equipment to pump liquid natural gas out of tanker vessels into storage. The gas would be vaporized and released into NW Natural's newly completed Coos Bay-to-Roseburg pipeline, a branch of the Williams Natural Gas trunk line.
Leading off the forum were Adam Bless, a resources specialist for the state Energy Department, and Lauren O'Donnell, deputy director of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's gas and engineering division. The two described the timetables their agencies will set in deciding whether to green-light the terminal complex, which would occupy 93 acres of the 228-acre Roseburg Forest Products wood-chip terminal site.
At the state level, according to Bless, Energy Products' next milepost will be its actual application for site approval, which Braddock said the company may file in the fall. The state energy agency will evaluate the plan for several months and open another public comment period, together with an open meeting, and recommend either allowing or blocking the project in a draft proposed order.
Next, the department would hold a contested case, a court-like proceeding in which a hearing officer will consider the evidence for and against approving the project. Finally, Oregon's seven-member Energy Facility Siting Council would vote to approve or block the plan, completing a process that may last until late 2006.
O'Donnell outlined the process of seeking federal approval, which includes environmental and seismic tests, a draft environmental impact statement and a public comment phase to guide the agency as it shapes a final impact statement.
The federal energy commission, she said, will pay special attention to the design of the storage tank, which must either chill or insulate natural gas to keep it below minus-260 degrees Fahrenheit in order to keep it a liquid. Braddock said the double-hulled Jordan Cove storage tank will use only insulation, not mechanical refrigeration, in order to avoid releasing cooling gases into the air.
Indeed, Braddock's lengthy slide presentation detailed the ways in which, he said, Jordan Cove will be a good neighbor to the Bay Area. The site already is zoned for industrial and marine use, will be largely obscured by dune woodlands and is a mile and a quarter from the nearest home, on California Avenue in North Bend.
Braddock also took on the sensitive topic of a possible explosion at the terminal, pointing to the safety record of LNG import centers even in earthquake-ridden nations such as Japan, where the natural gas port in Kobe withstood a 1995 earthquake.
While audience members politely listened to the regulators, they saved their questioning for Braddock, the Jordan Cove project's public face since Energy Products announced it in September.
"We ask that in your application, you make a commitment to use local steelworkers and local contractors," said Doug McClaughry, a Eugene resident representing the Sheet Metal Workers union. "What I hate is to see license plates (of construction workers) from Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas and Oklahoma, knowing that Oregon has one of the highest rates of unemployment."
"I don't see the protection there you speak of," said H. Del Knight, a retired forester from Myrtle Point and opponent of the Jordan Cove proposal. Knight called the North Spit location, likely among the first that would be struck by a tsunami, risky.
Braddock responded that he and Energy Products would accept whatever verdict seismologists pronounce on the site, saying the company sought only to rule out obviously unsuitable places.
"We've worked to find a site that looks good, superficially to be sure," he said, emphasizing the battery of tests and studies yet to be done. "… That site might have a fatal flaw, and if it is, it is."
Toward the end of the forum, the project manager stressed, not for the last time, the long regulatory path that remains before any earth is turned on the North Spit.
"At the end of the day," he said, "it will not be me who makes the decisions; it will be experts. They will say to us, 'This stinks' or 'This is all right.'"
The state Department of Energy continues to accept public comment on Energy Products Development's plan to build a liquid natural gas ship terminal on the North Spit.
Those wishing to write the department can send mail to Adam Bless at the Oregon Department of Energy, 625 Marion St. N.E., Salem, OR 97301-3737; or by e-mail to email@example.com. The deadline is Feb. 10.
For more information, those interested can call the Energy Department at (800) 221-8035, ext. 226; or at (503) 378-8692.