Clatsop County Election a Defeat for LNG

Nick Engelfried

Let Tuesday's election be a warning for politicians at every level of government that reverberates across the state: public officials who insist on pandering to out-of-state LNG developers at the expense of local communities may soon find themselves out of a job.

Local politics is looking distinctly different in Clatsop County, as all three incumbents on the Board of Commissioners running for re-election lost their campaigns this week. Commissioners Jeff Hazen, John Raichl, and Robert Mushen will be leaving the board come January, after their terms expire in December of this year. The defeated incumbents will be replaced by challengers Scott Lee (District 1), Peter Huhtala (District 3), and Debra Birkby (District 5).

It’s likely no coincidence that all three outgoing incumbents were perceived as allies of the liquefied natural gas (LNG) industry, and supporters of the proposed Oregon LNG pipeline project. Meanwhile the three fresh faces on the Clatsop County Commission were seen throughout the election as providing a chance for those fed up with the county government’s bending to the whims of LNG corporations to finally be heard.

On their campaign web sites, Birkby and Huhtala both chose to designate the LNG debate as one of their priority issues. According to Huhtala, LNG terminals like Bradwood “would bring environmental harm and economic hardship to transport a commodity that we don’t need” in Clatsop County. Birkby states, “I have yet to hear a compelling case for the need or suitability for Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) facilities in our county.”

Scott Lee’s web site didn’t highlight LNG to the same degree as Huhtala’s or Birkby’s, yet the issue was apparently a major issue in the District 1 race as well. The Daily Astorian’s endorsement of Lee criticized Jeff Hazen’s support for Bradwood LNG and urged those dissatisfied with the county’s handling of the project to cast their vote for Lee.

Over the last couple years the Clatsop County Board of Commissioners twice voted to approve land-use changes friendly to the Bradwood project, sparking outrage from LNG opponents and county residents rightly concerned about LNG’s impact on the environment and economy of the Columbia region. Both times, the commission’s decision was thrown out by the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals, based in part on the fact that the county didn’t adequately account for the mega-energy project’s impact on salmon habitat.

Let Tuesday’s election be another nail in the coffin for Oregon LNG. And let it be a warning for politicians at every level of government that reverberates across the state: public officials who insist on pandering to out-of-state LNG developers at the expense of local communities may soon find themselves out of a job.

Comments

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    Wow! A ray breaks through the overcast...

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    This was a stunning defeat for the Tea Party/LNG group that backed the incumbents, particularly the Board Chairman, Jeff Hazen, who survived a recall about 56-44 half a year ago. Although Clatsop County is pretty blue some labor groups have believed that somehow LNG would bring jobs back. Bradwood Landing, the LNG facility which had he unbridled support of the all-Republican County Commission, went bankrupt right before the election after LUBA rejected the County Board's approval of the Bradwood site - over the strong objection of the county planning staff. One irony the Republican commissioner from the area where the LNG facility would be built was the sole vote against the project - both in 2007 and the newly elected commissioner - Dirk Rohn, now likely to be Board Chair in 2011. Two of the original commissioners had ALREADY been recalled and two of the incumbents were nice people appointed to replace the recalled ones, but who voted with the LNG group. But as Jeff Mapes noted in his column on this subject discontent ran deeper. The lack of transparency and something personal to me. Of the four commissioners who tried to dislodge me from my job in May of 2007 by suddenly cutting all my county pay ($13,500)two have been recalled and the author of the motion was defeated Tuesday 60 to 40. The "stipend" was reinstated - grudgingly - in March of 2008 after the first of the commissioners was recalled. I'm proud to have been re-elected to a fifth term with one of the lowest "undervotes" in the state for an unopposed candidate.

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