Last summer, several Oregon landowners accompanied political aides from the offices of US Senator Ron Wyden and US Representative Peter DeFazio as they visited property owners along the Pacific Connector Pipeline route.
The landowners on the tour were Clarence Adams, Ron Schaaf, Deb Evans, Bill Gow, Larry Mangan, Mike and Jane Williams, and Mike’s mother, Carol Williams.
Molly McCarthy, Sen. Wyden’s aide, and Dan Whelan, Rep. DeFazio’s aide, were introduced to landowner Cynthia Garrett, whose family has raised cows near the tiny community of Dora for several generations.
Cynthia described several unpleasant encounters with Pembina agents, including the time Mathew Schoetz tried to coerce her into signing an easement, promising to move a block valve off her property if she signed—and warning that it would stay right where it was if she didn’t. Earlier in the year, a low-flying Pembina helicopter had spooked her cows.
Molly and Dan also met Karen and Cary Norman, whose Coos County property includes two streams that provide spawning habitat for Coho salmon. The Normans complained that "slick" land agents had tried to mislead them into signing over their easement, claiming Jordan Cove is a “done deal.”
The tour sprang from a letter sent by Larry and Sylvia Mangan to Senator Wyden following a Town Hall meeting. There the Mangans alerted the Senator to the deceptive and bullying tactics Pembina representatives were using to coerce landowners to sell their easements.
In their letter, Larry and Sylvia outlined specific incidents described by Cynthia Garrett and others. But they also pointed out that, as a group, landowners along the pipeline route are particularly vulnerable and ill-equipped to fight a well-funded fossil fuel company. Three quarters are over 65; 95% are over 55. Many do not have Internet access at home and live in rural areas far from the nearest library. Larry and Sylvia also pointed out the discrepancies between Pembina's contracts with timber companies compared to those with private landowners. The timber company contracts are comprehensive 80-, 100- or even 120- page documents; contracts with private landowners contracts are simple, sometimes only a few pages long, begging the question: how protected are these private landowners?
At the end of the tour, Clarence Adams presented Molly and Dan with thick binders containing the compiled comments of landowners who had submitted comments to FERC. The tour obviously had an impact, because on August 21, Senator Wyden sent a letter of his own, asking US Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd to look into his constituents’ complaints. We do not know if this review has taken place, but OLOL is investigating.
Senator Wyden has not taken a stance on Jordan Cove one way or another. Rep. DeFazio, however, finally and formally came out against the project on December 7, 2019. In his statement, DeFazio said that he could not support Jordan Cove because “the federal approval process is run by unelected political appointees, the project tramples on private property rights, and it will exacerbate the urgent and immediate threat of climate change.”
Not to imply a straight line from the landowner tour to DeFazio’s public statement, but it is likely that the collective pressure exerted by his constituents over time, including the compelling personal testimonies from landowners themselves, had an impact.
Thanks to all of the landowners who submitted their stories, to the landowners who accompanied Molly and Dan, and to Karina Brown for her reporting on Sen. Wyden's request.