The Oregon Department of State Lands is holding the line.
On Tuesday, January 21, DSL Director Vicki Walker sent Jordan Cove a letter, rejecting the company’s request that DSL extend their deadline for its decision on a critical removal-fill permit. Jordan Cove wanted DSL to move the deadline from January 31 to March 31.
The news has heartened landowners.
“Because Pembina has not been able to furnish the required information with a positive spin, they wanted more time,” says Clarence Adams, an impacted landowner from Douglas County. “The State’s refusal to allow this is one more nail in the coffin of this affront to Oregon landowners.”
Deadlines and delays
It’s important to understand just how accommodating DSL has been up until now to fully appreciate the Department’s refusal to accommodate Jordan Cove’s most recent request.
Oregon's Removal-Fill Law (ORS 196.795-990) requires people who plan to remove or fill material in wetlands or waterways to obtain a permit from the Department of State Lands. The purpose of the law, according to DSL, is "to ensure protection and the best use of Oregon’s water resources for home, commercial, wildlife habitat, public navigation, fishing and recreational uses." The "removal-fill" permit is one of several key state permits that Jordan Cove must obtain for their project to proceed.
Jordan Cove filed its application with DSL on November 3, 2017. Later that month, the Department determined that the application was incomplete and agreed to extend the deadline to April 30, 2018, which would allow Pembina plenty of time to resubmit a more complete application. Later, DSL agreed to extend the deadline to May 30.
Jordan Cove submitted a revised application on May 10, 2018, but shortly after that, they asked DSL to stop their review and officially change the status of the application to “awaiting revision.” Another few deadline extensions later, Jordan Cove finally submitted another revised application on November 7, 2018.
DSL decided this application was complete enough to open a public comment period. The Department also held five public hearings across the state. It was during the process that the Department received an unprecedented 49,000 to 57,000 comments. Most of them urged DSL to deny the removal-fill permit.
Now it was DSL’s turn to request an extension, to give themselves enough time to go through the deluge of comments. The new deadline, which Jordan Cove agreed to, was September 20, 2019. In an eight-page letter to Jordan Cove, DSL outlined a host of issues and insufficiencies, made a number of data requests, and asked that Jordan Cove provide detailed responses to the "substantive comments" submitted by several groups and individuals, some of them landowners.
In early September, Jordan Cove sent a partial response to the public comments, promising a more complete response the following month. On September 13, Jordan Cove requested yet another extension, to January 31, 2020. DSL agreed.
Throughout the fall and winter there was a flurry of letters, emails, and meetings between DSL and Pembina reps, during which DSL requested that the company address several “outstanding issues.” Pembina sent partial but ultimately unsatisfactory responses in a trickle of emails to the DSL.
Enough is enough
As Walker stated in her letter, DSL “has long worked with [Jordan Cove] in establishing reasonable timelines for submission and review of the removal-fill application. My staff and I have clearly and regularly communicated regarding the additional information needed, making ourselves available for numerous phone calls and meetings and engaging in regular email correspondence.”
Vicki Walker got this right, says Pam Ordway, whose Douglas County property is on the pipeline route. “After countless extensions, it was time to tell Pembina ‘enough is enough—turn in your homework and accept your grade.’ Landowners along the route of the pipeline, like my family and I, appreciate Ms. Walker refusing to continue to kick this can down the road again.”
So what exactly were the “outstanding issues”? We’ll get into that in Part II of our blog, which should be posted in a couple of days. In the meantime, thanks to everyone who attended a hearing or submitted comments to DSL. Clearly those efforts have made a difference.