Wyden Objects to Planned Pipeline Through Mt. Hood

Wyden objects to planned pipeline through Mount Hood National Forest
by Charles Pope and Ted Sickinger, The Oregonian
Thursday December 18, 2008, 2:15 PM

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Ron Wyden on Thursday strenuously objected to a Forest Service decision that would allow a natural gas pipeline to cut through Mount Hood National Forest, calling the proposal an unnecessary danger to habitat and a threat to "Oregon's most sensitive and treasures areas."

Wyden raised his objections in a letter to Forest Service Chief Gail Kimbell less than a month after Mount Hood managers said they would alter the forest's management plan to allow construction. According to Wyden, the 36-inch diameter pipeline could cut across as many as 66 streams and rivers within Mount Hood, including some that have been designated "wild and scenic." In all, the proposed route would affect 709 acres of Forest Service land and 106 acres of land that is home to old growth forest.

"Beyond the substantial aquatic impacts of this proposal, the width and span of the right of way needed for a pipeline of this size would radically and permanently alter the forest landscape of one of Oregon's most heavily-visited recreational forests," Wyden said in his letter.

"As your agency is aware, I have been working on a forestry proposal to provide permanent protection for old growth forest that would re-direct focus on management activities to promote sustainable wood harvest, forest restoration, and rural development," Wyden wrote.

"I am deeply concerned that the Forest Service would counter our efforts to settle the ongoing and contentious debate over old growth by proposing a pipeline that would cut through two late successional reserves - reserves that have been designated under the Northwest Forest Plan."

Palomar Gas Transmission LLC filed its formal federal application last week to build a 217-mile natural gas pipeline from a liquefied natural gas terminal on the lower Columbia River to an interstate gas hub in central Oregon.

The controversial $800 million project is a joint venture of Northwest Natural Gas Co.

The companies hope the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission will issue a draft environmental impact statement for the project in six to eight months and win final approval in late 2009. They hope to complete construction in November 2011.

Thursday's dust-up over the pipeline is only the latest installment in the long-running battle over a liquified natural gas terminal planned for the Oregon coast. With the terminal's future uncertain, the Forest Service in late November said it would amend the management plan for Mount Hood to allow pipeline access. That decision became more meaningful last week when the companies underwriting the project filed formal papers with the federal government to move forward.

In September, FERC granted a conditional approval of the Bradwood Landing LNG project, subject to state and federal permits, and issued a draft environmental analysis of the Jordan Cove terminal proposed for Coos Bay.

State officials have lambasted FERC, saying it has rubber stamped the LNG projects. Specifically, they believe the agency has failed to demonstrate any need for additional natural gas in the state and has issued inadequate and faulty environmental analyses of the projects.

The State Land Board issued a resolution on Dec. 11 reiterating objections to FERC's process by its three members: Gov. Ted Kulongoski, State Treasurer Randall Edwards and Secretary of State Bill Bradbury. Spokeswomen for both the governor and the treasurer said the resolution broke no new ground, but opponents clearly hope it sets the stage for state agencies to deny permits for the terminals.

The proposed location of the proposed Palomar pipeline through sensitive and treasured areas of the Mount Hood National Forest is unacceptable as is the Forest Service's proposal to amend the forest plan to allow it. The cumulative degradation to both aquatic and terrestrial environment must be examined in a far more methodical process. I request that you immediately rescind the proposed amendment.

While Wyden stopped short to spelling out what other steps he might consider, his letter makes clear that he is unlikely to back down.

"In summary, I want to express my deep opposition to the Forest Service's proposal to amend the forest plan which fails to recognize the potential for lasting damage to rivers and streams, as well as to the valuable forest ecosystems that will be bisected by the freeway-wide clear-cut necessitated by this project," the letter says.

"While no wilderness areas appear to be directly included in the path of the pipeline, the pipeline would get dangerously close to these gems," Wyden concludes.

The Forest Service did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

-- Charles Pope; OregonianDC@gmail.com

Click this link to see Wyden's letter: http://bark-out.org/content/537/Wyden_Letter_to_Forest_Service_on_Amendm...