Below you will find the story of how activists in Clatsop County stood up to corporate control in their communities – ultimately resulting in the replacement of three county commissioners in the 2010 general election.
At the Rural Caucus and Strategy Session on Saturday, May 7th meet one of the core leaders behind the commissioner elections. Larry Taylor will be leading a strategy session on using a hometown approach to winning local elections- the steps and strategies behind the Clatsop County success.
In a time when corporate control is out of control, we’ll be looking at Hometown Strategies that promote fairness and dignity over profits. This year’s Caucus will feature an action at Congressman Walden’s office where rural Oregonians will declare our resistance to corporate and military funding over meeting community needs. If you have not yet registered for this year’s Caucus, do so now here (and get a discount if you do so by the early bird deadline of Thursday, April 7th).
For nearly a decade, Clatsop County has been a victim of egregious corporate behavior. Shell corporations had been formed to front liquid natural gas (LNG) terminals and pipeline construction projects. They persuaded local elected officials to support the projects with promises of jobs and increased tax revenue. They conducted a public relations campaign and dropped piles of money in local non-profit organizations.
Red flags were buried in their reports. The scale and impact of the project was minimized. The jobs turned out not to be a fit for the local population. The rural fire districts were substantially underprepared for potential emergencies. The impacts to local tourism, to the fishing economy, and to real estate prices were minimized.
Opposition began on day one (in November 2004). At the beginning we thought the public testimonies were for real and we showed up time after time, wrote the letters, put on public meetings to educate ourselves and the community. The opposition grew. When we realized that the county commissioners had the power to Stop this deal but all but one were in the pockets of the bullying and high spending corporations (multiple by this time), we went for recall. We succeeded in recalling a couple of commissioners but that wasn’t enough as the remaining ones appointed more lackeys.
The county commissioners blatantly allowed the project supporters to provide extensive public testimony while conspiring to limit or prevent opposing testimony. One corporation launched a covert effort to infiltrate the local Democrats, who opposed the project.
A group of progressive activists began opposing the projects thru public testimony and letters to the editors of local newspapers. When no progress was made in persuading the county commissioners to respond to the public, they began a multiyear process of replacing county commission with new members who understood what public service means.
In January 2010, three incumbent commissioners were replaced with three candidates of which none had previously held public office. We went out and solicited people from all backgrounds who love the River and/or the land and brought together folks of many backgrounds. Our outreach was not just to Dems or progressives but to the community. The eventual vote was lopsided in our favor because we did the work. We brought all kinds of folks together, deepened our relationships and connection while also winning the election to put our leadership in office, and ultimately reversing the LNG decision.
This article describes what occurred on their first day in office in January 2011.
County takes fresh look at LNG
New commission takes action after swearing-in ceremonies
By KATIE WILSON
The Daily Astorian Daily Astorian |
Not only was it the first meeting of the year, it was also the first meeting for three newly sworn-in Clatsop County commissioners, and LNG was back on the table.
Following an executive sesssion after the regular meeting Wednesday, the Board of Commissioners voted 4-1 to withdraw last years approval of a liquefied natural gas land-use application. They will re-examine the issue in a public hearing.
The board will meet at 10 a.m., Feb. 9, at the Judge Guy Boyington Building, 857 Commercial St., Astoria, to discuss and determine the scope of its review of the Oregon Pipeline application.
Oregon Pipeline LLC seeks to build 41 miles of a 121-mile pipeline through Clatsop County. The pipeline would connect to an LNG terminal in Warrenton.
The boards review, depending on what is decided Feb.9, may take place March 9. The board can limit its review to the existing record, accept testimony from specific parties or reopen the entire hearing process.
Commissioner Patricia Roberts was the sole dissenting vote and the motion was approved by votes from Commissioner Dirk Rohne and new Commissioners Peter Huhtala, Debra Birkby and Scott Lee.
The situation has flip-flopped since Nov. 8, when Rohne was the only vote against the pipeline and Roberts, along with former commissioners Jeff Hazen, John Raichl and Robert Mushen, voted â€œyesâ€ to accept a hearings officerâ€™s ruling on the pipeline project, granting conditional approval to Oregon Pipelines consolidated application.
This decision was later appealed to the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals by project opponents led by Columbia Riverkeeper.
The new commissioners, with Rohne, voted Wednesday to file a notice of withdrawal with the Land Use Board of Appeals for reconsideration of the November 2010 ruling.
I think the board made a reasoned decision to pull back that case from LUBA and take a hard look at the findings, Huhtala said.
Jurisdictions have the authority to withdraw, re-examine and potentially reverse land-use decisions prior to completing and filing the record of the process with the Land Use Board of Appeals.
New commissioners sworn-in
Other than the LNG decision, the new commissioners first meeting was fairly light.
They were sworn in at 8:45 a.m. by Clatsop County Circuit Court Judge Phil Nelson and took their seats with Commissioners Roberts and Rohne to hear presentations about how the county budget works and the role of public health.
Rohne, whose term will end in December 2012, was designated as the board’s chairman, and Huhtala was designated as vice-chairman. As chairman, Rohne will be in charge of leading board meetings.
The new commissioners also heard a presentation from the organizers of the Project Homeless Connect. The event, a collaboration between various public and private agencies, provides basic goods and services to homeless individuals and families and will take place at the Seaside Convention Center, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Jan. 27.
The commissioners voted no to a partition waiver request from Ralph and Ann Peitsch, who live on the recently legalized Simonsen Road in the unincorporated area of Svensen, and heard preliminary information about the Emergency Operations Plan and the Emergency Operations Center Communications Wing project.
I think the new commission works very well together, Lee said.
The commissioners serve on a variety of committees and boards as liasons or members and part of Wednesday’s meeting was to split up these duties.
People were being really level-headed, picking what they’re strong in more than picking for political advantage, he said. He personally leaned toward committees that could draw on his background in social work, he said.
It went quite well, actually, said Birkby, after the meeting. She said the upcoming LNG hearing will be an experience.
Its scary to bring it back to reconsider, but because of the amount of money and what the county’s put in timewise, you really want to make sure you make the best decision you can,she said.
Being behind the commissioners desk changed things, Huhtala said.
County issues can be pretty dry stuff, he said, but I stayed interested, very, very interested, and excited about it. Out in the audience I would have been yawning a bit. But when you’re right in with some very signficiant decisions, it keeps you alert.