Houston-based NorthernStar Natural Gas Inc., facing hurdles in its proposal to develop a liquefied natural gas terminal on the Columbia River, is hoping to throw a roadblock or two in front of a competitor.
A shell company formed by NorthernStar, backer of the proposed Bradwood Landing terminal 20 miles east of Astoria, has asked federal regulators to stop processing the application of a competing terminal proposed for farther west on the Columbia -- Oregon LNG.
NorthernStar, through shell company Pinnacle Long LLC, says it has established an ownership interest in Oregon LNG's site on Warrenton's Skipanon Peninsula, just west of Astoria. The company says it bought the deed from property owner George Warren and has also leased another property adjacent to the Oregon LNG site.
Pinnacle said in a letter dated last week to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that as a tenant on the project site, it objects to a new access road, as well as the removal of a dike, wetlands and a pond. The issues, it said, were "irresolvable." Consequently, Pinnacle said, Oregon LNG would never be able to establish site control, and FERC should stop wasting its time with the application.
If true, that could be a sticky problem for Oregon LNG. But Peter Hansen, one of the partners in the Oregon LNG team, says it's all nonsense. The property is owned by the Oregon Department of State Lands, leased to the Port of Astoria, and subleased to Oregon LNG, he said.
Monica Pincombe, a cartographer in the Clatsop County clerk's office, says she has no record of George Warren's ownership interest in the project site. She said she'd already told Pinnacle's attorney that the parcel number they referenced in a quitclaim deed filed last week was an entirely different property.
"I don't know where they're coming off on that," Pincombe said. "Maybe if you did a title search, he has some old interest in the property, but he doesn't as far as our records indicate."
Oregon's LNG's Hansen contends NorthernStar's objections are all convenient posturing.
"I don't know why they're doing it," he said. "I would think they have plenty of their own problems to attend to."
NorthernStar recently received federal approval for the Bradwood Landing LNG project. That approval, however, was subject to more than 100 conditions, mostly to do with environmental engineering and public safety concerns.
In its letter to FERC, Pinnacle said it was "aware of the many safety and environmental issues" regarding the Oregon LNG site.
Joe Desmond, a spokesman for NorthernStar, says the team behind Bradwood actually considered the Skipanon Peninsula site years ago. But seismic and tsunami concerns, as well as proximity to the Astoria Regional Airport, convinced the team it was inappropriate for a terminal.
"We are simply highlighting the problems that have existed at that site for a long time," Desmond said. "We did not create the ownership problem. We didn't create the tsunami zone, the road problem, the dike district. All we're doing is seeking to point them out."
Oregon LNG intends to submit its formal application to FERC Oct. 10, and Hansen said the site's suitability for an LNG terminal is well documented in its resource report.
NorthernStar, he said, had never done any detailed geotechnical analyses or boring on the site, so he's not sure how they how they could have any knowledge of the seismic issues.
"Maybe they have a crystal ball," he said.
And what does Hansen's own crystal ball say?
"I would say that 'Houston has a problem' and I would think that their confidence level is in the tank," he said. "They can always make the claims they do. We will deal with it. Rest assured."
Copyright (c) 2008, The Oregonian, Portland, Ore. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.