Farmers vow to take pipeline ruling to state Supreme Court
Washington County farmers vow to take their fight against the Northwest Natural's proposed gas line all to the way to the Oregon Supreme Court, now that a state Office of Energy hearings officer has rejected most of their objections.
In a report issued Feb. 14, hearings officer Virginia Gustafson ruled that Northwest Natural (NWN) can install a 60-mile 24-inch feeder line from Dairy Creek north of U.S. 26 across Washington County farmland.
The line would connect with the Williams Co. west coast delivery system near Molalla.
NWN has marked a 200-foot-wide corridor in which it will choose a 20-foot permanent easement for the pipe line. An additional 20-foot easement will be required during construction.
During a contested case phase of NWN's site application with the Oregon Energy Siting Council, the Oregon Farm Bureau, local farmers and the 1,000 Friends of Oregon filed challenges to the council staff's draft recommendation. All but a few objections were rejected by Gustafson.
"We got very little out of it," said Ellyn McNeil of Mountaindale, who has been a persistent opponent with county farmers of the utility's lines.
She said farmers will have 60 days after the Siting Council makes a decision March 7 to challenge its expected approval. After that, the next step would be to appeal the council's decision to the Oregon Supreme Court.
"We think this is an important enough case to take it to the Supreme Court," said McNeil.
However, Cook said the farmers were successful in convincing Gustafson that at least some of the line should be placed in existing roads and other rights of way. Originally, NWN wanted the entire line placed in private farmland.
Farmers also won Gustafson's directive to NWN to separate 12 inches of topsoil from subsoil and replace them separately after construction, but didn't agree with farmers that more than 12 inches of topsoil should be protected.
Other objections were rejected. McNeil said the farmers hoped NWN would be required to lay the line deeper than five feet so that it wouldn't be vulnerable to tilling, irrigation and other farming practices. But that request, too, was turned down.
Cook said the farmers, from the beginning, have been at a disadvantage in contending with a corporation with a team of attorneys and geological experts on call.
"The process is terribly difficult for any opponent of NWN. The company knows the Siting Council and its staff and has a huge amount of resources in attorneys and experts it can throw at the opposition," she said. "But if the farmers want to take the case to the Supreme Court, we'll do that."
Attorneys for the Washington County Farm Bureau, individual farmers and 1,000 Friends of Oregon are expected to file "exceptions" to Gustafson's ruling by Tuesday.
Since NWN first announced in May 1999 it intended to build the line, farmers have raised objections. They contend the line should be placed in public rights of way such as established road ways. They also believe the line presents a safety hazard, especially in areas prone to mud slides. They also oppose limitations on the kinds of crops that can be grown in the rights of way.
NWN said the line is needed to serve a growing southwest metropolitan area. The utility also believes the new system will save customers $253 million over 30 years by enabling NWN to buy gas cheaply in the summer and then store it in underground reservoirs near Mist in Columbia County for winter use.
NWN contends it is using the most advanced technology in planning and building the pipeline.