Jordan Cove Battle Enters New Phase

Jordan Cove and the North Spit.\Photo by Rena Olson.

Events have moved rapidly in the first weeks of 2020 in the long battle against the LNG (liquefied natural gas) terminal proposed by the Jordan Cove Energy Project for Coos Bay’s North Spit, and the associated Pacific Connector pipeline that would stretch 229 miles across southern Oregon.  For well over a decade, Oregon Shores has been deeply committed to opposing this project, which threatens the Coos Bay estuarine environment, more than 400 waterways, public safety, recreational resources, and the commercial fishing and oyster industries.

In the latest news, somewhat misunderstood by some, Jordan Cove withdrew its application to the Department of State Lands (DSL) for a Removal-Fill permit.  A DSL decision had been expected on Jan. 31.  On Jan. 21, two days before Jordan Cove retreated, DSL turned down its request for an extension (which would have been its fifth).  DSL’s statement denying the extension was more sternly worded than is typical for a state agency, noting bluntly that Jordan Cove had failed to provide adequate information in response to DSL’s requests in the course of the previous four extensions.  It sounded as though the department might have been prepared not only to deny the application, but to deny it “with prejudice,” meaning that the applicant couldn’t make changes to the application and re-submit it.  This would have been a truly major blow to the project, and opponents waited eagerly for the decision.  Jordan Cove obviously came to the same conclusion, and withdrew the application rather than face denial with prejudice.

This is still a major setback for the would-be developers.  The application withdrawn by Jordan Cove included removal-fill activity related to construction of the proposed LNG terminal, slip and access channel, and pipeline, and the project needs authorization to conduct this work to move forward.  Oregon Shores collaborated with many other partners in the anti-LNG coalition to write an extensive set of comments encouraging DSL to deny Jordan Cove’s state Removal-Fill permit, with Oregon Shores’ particular role being to focus on Jordan Cove’s failure to address impacts to the estuary, habitats on the North Spit, and important estuarine fish and wildlife.  DSL received more than 49,000 comments during the public comment period for the application, and the anti-LNG coalition comment to which Oregon Shores contributed was identified by the DSL as one requiring a detailed and direct response by Jordan Cove prior to a final decision.

The state removal-fill permit is a critical state permit needed by Jordan Cove to build the proposed LNG gas export terminal, dredge millions of cubic feet of sediment out of Coos Bay to make way for LNG tanker traffic, bore holes under the Coos Bay estuary to transport natural gas to the North Spit for processing, and construct a pipeline through and under hundreds of waterways across Southern Oregon (including many of southern Oregon’s most important, salmon-bearing rivers). Oregon's removal-fill permit rules allow applicants to withdraw an application at any time prior to the final permit decision. When a removal-fill permit application is withdrawn, the application fee is forfeited and the application file is closed. A new application must be submitted for a project to receive any further consideration.

When news that Jordan Cove had withdrawn its application first spread, many jumped to the conclusion that this meant that the project was dead.  However, to borrow a phrase from Mark Twain, the reports of Jordan Cove’s death are greatly exaggerated.  The company has not revealed whether it intends to submit a new application soon, but it is unlikely that Jordan Cove (and, behind it, the Canadian multinational Pembina) will abandon efforts to build the LNG terminal and pipeline.

What is likelier is that Jordan Cove will wait until the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approves the project, a decision anticipated for Feb. 13.  The company may hope that with federal approval in hand, it can strong-arm the state into allowing the project.  If Jordan Cove does seek a removal-fill permit again, Oregon Shores will once again be in the forefront of the opposition.

Oregon Shores Appeals Local Land Use Permits for Jordan Cove

Blocking state permits is not the only way to thwart the Jordan Cove project.  Local land use approvals are also necessary for development to proceed, and Oregon Shores, working through our Coastal Law Project, a partnership with the Crag Law Center, in battling Jordan Cove through multiple land use permit processes.

Beginning in November, 2018, the Jordan Cove Energy Project and the related Pacific Connector Gas Pipeline (together known as Jordan Cove) submitted multiple local land use permits to move forward with their proposed LNG Terminal Facility, the pipeline necessary to carrier natural gas to the site on the North Spit, and the channel dredging required to enable large LNG tankers to pass through the Coos Bay estuary.  Oregon Shores has opposed a number of these permit applications by submitting comments at public hearings, and rebutting Jordan Cove during subsequent “open record” periods.  Oregon Shores and other allies are now challenging multiple local land use approvals obtained by Jordan Cove from all-too-compliant local jurisdictions.  Oregon Shores’ four ongoing appeals, in which we are the lead appellant, include:

*Permits for the terminal site:  On Jan. 17, Oregon Shores, represented by Crag attorney Meriel Darzen, filed a “Notice of Intent to Appeal” the Coos County Board of Commissioners’ Final Decision to approve a package of land use applications for the proposed Jordan Cove LNG export terminal facility on the North Spit. The appeal was filed with Oregon’s Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA).  This was Jordan Cove’s second application to Coos County in three years for the LNG export terminal facility and a number of related components, and includes requests to excavate large berths for LNG export tankers on the North Spit. Coos County approved this application on December 31, 2019.  Oregon Shores’ argued strongly that Jordan Cove’s application failed to adequately address adverse impacts to the estuary and habitats on the North Spit, and was inconsistent with requirements of the Coos Bay Estuary Management Plan.

This appeal is in addition to an appeal filed jointly by Oregon Shores and Surfrider of Coos County’s decision to approve, after a rehearing, a 2016 application by Jordan Cove for its proposed LNG export terminal facility and associated components on the North Spit. Oregon Shores previously prevailed on this application in 2017, and LUBA sent the permit back to the county, which approved it again in November, 2019.  Coos County has again chosen to ignore the concerns of the community and experts, and wrongly determined that impacts from the project, including the loss of benthic and estuarine plant and animal communities resulting from the dredging and loss of access for recreation and fishing, would not constitute a substantial interference with the public trust, despite extensive testimony and evidence to the contrary.

*Permits for dredging and dredge material disposal:  On Jan. 7, Oregon Shores appealed a decision by Coos County to allow Jordan Cove to dredge Coos Bay’s Navigation Channel to make way for LNG tanker traffic. The proposed channel widening requires Coos County to rezone over 20 acres of estuarine areas currently zoned for natural or conservation purposes to allow for the dredging to widen the channel. Oregon Shores, represented by attorney Anu Sawkar of Crag, strongly opposed the application, and submitted extensive comments at the public hearing and subsequent open record periods highlighting how the proposed channel alterations and associated components would violate the county’s land use plan and statewide planning goals.  We argued that Jordan Cove had not made the case that any real public need would be served by dredging more of the estuary bottom—this dredging would have serious impacts on the estuary and its denizens, including shellfish harvested by local industries, and in reality serve only Jordan Cove (to the detriment of the estuarine environment and the Coos Bay region’s economy). 

Oregon Shores also worked hard to oppose a parallel navigation permitting process by the City of Coos Bay.  We have ntervened in a LUBA appeal of this decision in support of the Confederated Tribes Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians, who will serve as lead appellants.

Last spring, Oregon Shores appealed a decision by the City of North Bend to approve an application by Jordan Cove to allow dredge material disposal right next to Coos Bay and transport of dredge material through the estuary. Oregon Shores, this time represented by Ka’sha Bernard of Crag, submitted extensive comments for the public hearing and subsequent open record periods for this application, highlighting Jordan Cove’s failure to address water quality impacts and adverse impacts to eelgrass habitat, as well as strongly arguing that the proposals were inconsistent with the requirements of the Coos Bay Estuary Management Plan.

All of these appeals, at various points in the pipeline, will be heard by the state’s Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA), where the chances of success are much greater than they are with local commissioners or city councilors who are swayed by the desire for the jobs and in-lieu-of tax payments Jordan Cove promises to provide.  Success with any of these appeals would throw a major monkeywrench into the project’s gears.

Oregon Shores has also submitted comments and is currently working alongside allies to monitor and challenge numerous other local, state, and federal permits needed by Jordan Cove.  We will report on the results as these issues wend their way through the process.