Clatsop County LNG Referendum (2008)

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The Clatspo County LNG Referendum was on the September 16, 2008 ballot in Clatspo County. It was an effort by citizens to collect 598 valid signatures of Clatsop County voters to put the County Commission's March 20, 2008 decision, which would allow gas pipelines to run through county parks and open space, on the special September 2008 ballot to be approved or rejected.

The project these citizens opposed was known as the Bradwood Landing liquefied natural gas project.

The county commission approved the project, and provided land-use permits, for an LNG (Liquified Natural Gas) terminal and pipeline.

Three groups, the Columbia River Business Alliance, Columbia Riverkeeper, and the Northwest Property Rights Coalition were behind the effort to force the county's approval of the project onto the ballot.[1]


This measure was defeated

  • YES 4,046 (32.89%)
  • NO 8,255 (67.11%)Defeatedd[2]

Controversy over referendum

Project developer NorthernStar Natural Gas Inc. filed a motion in Clatsop County Circuit Court April 15, 2008 for a preliminary injunction that would stop Interim Clatsop County Clerk Fred Neal from processing the referendum.

Neal approved the petition after receiving a legal opinion from the county's contract counsel John Junkin, who argued the decision to allow pipelines in OPR zones was legislative, and therefore is an appropriate subject for a ballot referendum.

If it had been a quasi-judicial decision, he noted, a referendum would not be allowed.

But the company argued that as a land-use decision, the change in county law may not be referred to voters and any challenge should be taken to the Land Use Board of Appeals.

To support its position, the company cited two court cases they say prove that land-use decisions are not subject to referendum.

Supporters of the ballot referendum said they also have assurance from the Oregon Secretary of State's office that their proposal is legal. "It's a judgment call, and it's understandable that the Bradwood Landing folks would disagree with that judgment call and want to get a second opinion," said Neal. "We'll see what the judge says."[3]

Wording challenged

4/29/2008: Emil Nyberg, Don Atwood and Pete Hackett filed a challenge, through Attorney Charles Hinkle, to the wording of a recent referendum that asks the voters of Clatsop County if pipelines should be allowed with a conditional use permit in open space, parks and recreational lands. A separate petition was filed last week that challenges the referendum itself, saying that land-use decisions should be handled by LUBA and not by referendum. Because of the time lines involved, the petition submitted on April 28, 2008, needed to be filed before the Clatsop County Circuit Court ruled on the first and may be a moot point depending on the outcome.

The referendum came about when the County Commission approved an amendment to the Land and Water Development Use Ordinance to allow pipelines as a conditional use in open space, park and recreation (OPR) zones. The change was needed so Bradwood Landing could run a natural gas pipeline through a small piece of land just North of Westport.

Caption, Question And Summary Challenged

On April 11th, Chief Petitioners Don West, Mark Auerbach and Debbie Twombly submitted a referendum petition to District Attorney Josh Marquis. The full title and ballot wording was then prepared by Marquis and filed on April 17th. The caption of the referendum read “Approves Decision By Clatsop County Commission Allowing Pipelines On Protected Lands.” This is followed by the question, “Should voters support decision by County Commission allowing pipelines on parks, open space and recreational lands with conditional use permits.”

The documents filed today by Nyberg, Atwood and Hackett first address the caption. They contend that the County Commission shouldn’t be mentioned in the caption because the voters need to decide the subject itself and not “the voters attitude toward the legislative body that enacted the law.” Another issue they have is the word “protected”, which they claim is “unfair” because it is a “not-so-subtle endorsement of a no vote on the measure.” Lastly they claim that the caption does not mention the fact that pipelines would be permitted as a conditional use only. They also suggested what the caption should be changed to:

“Conditionally allows pipelines in open space, park and recreational zone.”

Also addressed is the Question on the referendum. They contend that the question doesn’t comply with ORS statutes because it doesn’t plainly phrase the chief purpose of the measure. The purpose they claim is to decide on an amendment to Clatsop County’s Land Water Development and Use Ordinance (LWDUO) and not a decision by a legislative body. They also challenge the word order of “parks, open space and recreational”, which is different than what appears in the county LWDUO. Their suggestion of what it should be changed to:

“Should county ordinance be amended to allow cable, water, sewer, other pipelines in open space, park and recreation zone?”

Ballot Summary Also Contested

In the referendum prepared by Marquis, the summary states:

Clatsop County zoning law previously prohibited pipelines, sewer lines, and cables in areas zoned as open space, parks and recreational lands. The County Commission recently amended that land use ordinance to allow pipelines, such as one proposed for a Liquid Natural Gas line. This vote would affect sections 5 and 6 of Clatsop County Land and Water Development Use Ordinance 08-5.

A “Yes” vote would support the decision by the majority of the County Commission to allow pipelines in areas including open spaces, parks and recreational lands with a conditional use permit.

A “No” vote would overturn the vote of the majority of the County Commission and prohibit the sitting of pipelines in open spaces, parks, and certain other protected areas.

Nyberg, Atwood and Hackett state that the first sentence is inaccurate because some pipelines are already allowed in OPR zones. According to them, golf courses, farm use and recreational vehicle parks are allowed in OPR Zones and pipelines (water and sewer lines) are obviously allowed in OPR zones already. They also contest the second sentence which mentions Liquid Natural Gas pipelines. They point out that natural gas will be running through proposed pipelines, but not in liquid form.

Here is the summary that they suggest:

Clatsop County zoning law previously allowed cable, water, sewer and other pipelines in areas zoned as open space, parks, and recreational lands only if the pipelines were customarily connected to a permitted use of such lands. The County Commission recently amended that law to allow cable, water, gas, sewer and other pipelines as a conditional use in those areas whether or not they are customarily connected to a permitted use. This measure asked voters whether they approve that recent amendment, which was set out in sections 5 and 6 of Clatsop County Land and Water Development Use Ordinance 08-5.

A “Yes” vote would allow cable, water, gas, sewer and other pipelines in areas zoned for open spaces, parks and recreational uses, only is a conditional use is required.

A “No” vote would allow construction of cable, water, gas, sewer and other pipelines in open spaces, parks, and recreational lands when customarily connected to other permitted uses.

According to the documents filed, District Attorney Josh Marquis is required to appear and defend the ballot title within 30 days.[4]

Environmental review OK's the proposal

June 9 2008, federal regulators gave their environmental endorsement to the LNG proposal .

FERC's analysis does not, however, constitute a go-ahead for the project.

In addition to a final vote by FERC commissioners, Bradwood needs permits from state agencies under the Clean Air, Clean Water and Coastal Zone Management acts, and a determination by federal fishery and wildlife agencies that the project doesn't jeopardize endangered salmon.

Those may not be quickly forthcoming.

State natural resource agencies have complained since last fall that FERC's draft environmental review of Bradwood was deeply flawed. Last month, the governor asked FERC to redo it based on newly available information, including a study by the Oregon Department of Energy concluding that the state doesn't need LNG and could meet its future gas needs more economically and with less pollution by importing more gas from Wyoming.[5]

See also