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Coos Bay City Council Approves Estuary Dredging for Jordan Cove

On Tuesday, January 7, the Coos Bay City Council voted to approve the application to change the designation of 3.3 acres of Natural Aquatic area to Development Aquatic area, to make way for dredging that will benefit the Jordan Cove project.

Over 100 people showed up for a rally (organized by Rogue Climate) before the hearing, and the Council Chambers was packed. Several landowners were present.

The Council vote was split, 3-3. Mayor Joe Benetti cast the deciding vote.

The decision ended a year-long process to consider the application, and goes against the recommendation of the Lane Council of Governments (LCOG), the third-party entity that was hired to review the application. One of LCOG’s key reasons for opposing the application is that the project is not in the public interest.

Eelgrass habitat at risk

This part of the city-owned estuary includes eelgrass beds, which serve as important “nursery” habitat for juvenile crabs and a variety of other organisms.

The approval means that this acreage, once protected under the Natural Area designation, can be deepened and widened to make way for LNG tankers. Curiously, a US Coast Guard report deemed that widening and deepening this part of the channel is not necessary to accommodate standard size vessels, leading many to suspect that the company is planning to deploy even larger “super-tankers” in the future.

Eelgrass provides vital habitat and food for a variety of creatures.

“Pembina wants it widened so that they can bring in even bigger ships and increase their profits at the expense of our commercial and recreational fisheries,” says Elizabeth Roberts, an artist who lives in Bandon. “Our city council has sold out our public trust lands to a foreign corporation despite independent findings that approval is not in the public interest and that the permit should be denied.”

Larry Mangan, a retired biologist who lives in North Bend, attended both the rally and the hearing. He told me that that another potential concern over deepening and widening the channel is that it will alter tidal volume and flows, potentially making commercial oyster beds vulnerable to domoic acid contamination.

One of the frustrations Mangan sees is that these decisions are too often required to be made in isolation, without considering upstream or downstream effects.

“The city or county just looks at their little piece; they can’t or don’t consider the big picture,” he says.

But of course, everything is connected, and dredging in this small portion of city-owned water could have impacts that are felt elsewhere in the estuarine ecosystem, just as this decision could ultimately impact the many landowners along the pipeline route.

What happens next? (Warning: acronyms ahead!)

This approval removes another hurdle and is admittedly frustrating to project opponents. However, the decision will likely be appealed to the Land Use Board of Appeals, or LUBA, and by no means is the fight over Jordan Cove over.

Jordan Cove opponents (red shirts) and supported (green shirts) showed up for the hearing on Tuesday night. Photo credit: Larry Mangan

In fact, several important dates are fast approaching. Jordan Cove still needs to acquire three state permits: from the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), the Department of State Lands (DSL), and the Department of Land Conservation and Development (DLCD).

DEQ denied Water Quality certification in May of 2019. Now it is up to Jordan Cove/Pembina to file a new application. DSL is expected to announce its decision on the removal/fill permit for Jordan Cove at the end of this month. And the DLCD is expected to make its decision at the end of February. Click on this link for a summary of updates on all State permits.

Then there’s the big one: FERC is scheduled to make its final decision on the project in mid-February.

OLOL will be keeping abreast of the latest developments and blogging regularly over the next few months. If you haven’t already, be sure to subscribe!

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