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.