LNG Debate: Moving Forward with Caution

3/12/04 LNG Debate: Moving
Forward with Caution
by Jeff Leonard

Because we own property on the Samoa Peninsula, the city of Eureka is in the middle of the community debate currently taking place over Calpine’s proposed liquefied natural gas facility.

As a City Council member, I am writing this guest opinion in response to the many phone calls, letters and e-mails I’ve received from both proponents and opponents of the project.

I support continuing this community debate. I also support establishing a fair public process, in keeping with the democratic system we enjoy, that allows everyone to participate in the decision-making process. I have a responsibility as an elected official to ensure that both sides of divisive issues have a fair opportunity to present their case.

Because the Eureka city airport property is the most-feasible site for this project, the next step in that public process is the Eureka City Council’s March 16 meeting, when the council discusses an exclusive right to negotiate agreement with Calpine. This agreement provides the opportunity for our community to carefully examine this project, while preserving the city of Eureka’s control over the property’s future.

Essentially, the ERTN is the city’s agreement to reserve its property while Calpine presents its project to the community, and local governments complete their independent analysis. Before getting any option to actually buy or lease the property, Calpine will have to make its entire project public, fund an independent study of the project and convince our community that LNG is a suitable fit for Humboldt Bay. If it gets our community’s acceptance, Calpine will still be required to obtain all of the necessary permits – more than 100 – before it can complete any transaction with the city.

To ensure that the city of Eureka controls this entire process, the city has negotiated several important “off-ramps” into the ERTN. Most importantly, the Eureka City Council retains the power to meet and decide – for any reason – to halt negotiations if it feels this project is unsuitable.

Consequently, the city is not under any obligation to ever accept or permit an LNG facility. The Eureka City Council retains the absolute power to use its judgment and terminate this agreement.

Moving forward with the ERTN will allow Calpine to present its entire project in detail. The process will put the burden on Calpine to convince our community that an LNG energy center is both feasible and desirable for Humboldt Bay.

Furthermore, local governments will be able to complete their own independent analysis of the project, guaranteeing a fair public process that allows everyone to participate in this community debate.

Although I support moving forward with the ERTN, I cannot make a fair decision about the actual project until we get reliable answers to the many questions LNG poses for Humboldt Bay. Both supporters and opponents of the project are working hard to answer those questions. However, as an elected representative, I need to gather and absorb a lot more information before I can make an educated and reasonable decision. One thing is certain – the community debate has begun, and I am listening to both arguments.

Despite the many economic opportunities, there are a number of important concerns that must be completely satisfied before this project could ever become a desirable next step for our community. For the time being, we need to move forward so that we can evaluate all of these issues, and everyone can fairly participate in the decision-making process.

(Jeff Leonard is a Eureka City Council member.)