LNG push poll angers opponents
Companyâ€™s polling strategy upsets some people; pollsters donâ€™t know who hired them
By CASSANDRA PROFITA
The Daily Astorian
A telephone poll about Clatsop County's Sept. 16 natural gas pipeline referendum could be designed to sway voters toward supporting the Bradwood Landing LNG project.
The Portland-based polling company RDD Field Services is calling county residents and asking them how they plan to vote on ballot measure 4-131, a referendum that will determine whether the pipeline for the Bradwood Landing project can follow its proposed route.
But several residents who have completed the poll say the 10- to 20-minute quiz is loaded with rosy information about the value of LNG as a clean fossil fuel and the improvements Bradwood Landing developer NorthernStar Natural Gas Inc. will bring to the region.
Referendum organizers suspect NorthernStar hired a "push poll" to convince county residents to support the company with a "yes" vote on the measure.
But the pollsters say they don't know who hired them, and neither RDD nor NorthernStar will say who commissioned the poll.
"We routinely engage in research polls as do a number of other companies," NorthernStar spokesman Joe Desmond said. "We don't ever discuss our research activities."
The measure will ask voters whether the Bradwood Landing LNG terminal pipeline - which is 3 feet in diameter - should be allowed to run through county land zoned for open space, parks and recreation.
Several county residents who told pollsters they planned to vote "no" on the measure were given a list of reasons to support LNG: increased tax revenue, job creation, cheaper natural gas and salmon population enhancement.
Then they were asked if they would change their vote on the ballot measure.
Lewis and Clark resident Jim Coughlin, who opposes the Bradwood Landing development, said he felt the poll was trying to manipulate him into changing his "no" vote.
"They weren't actually asking me questions," he said. "They were very definitely making statements. Once they made a statement, they'd ask how do I feel about that and could that change my mind."
Coughlin and others who took the poll said the statements detailed many specific benefits of the Bradwood project, including the number of construction and permanent jobs the facility would require and the amount of tax revenue the project would generate in the county.
The poll included a few less specific statements attributed to project opponents about the gas from the LNG terminal in Oregon going to California and the potential safety hazards of LNG.
It also asked respondents to weigh in on a story in The Daily Astorian where Desmond, NorthernStar's spokesman, stated the referendum is a waste of taxpayers' time and money and referenced company arguments about pipelines that already exist on park land in Clatsop County.
The seeds of the Sept. 16 referendum were sown when the Clatsop County Commission voted to allow Bradwood pipeline to run through county land zoned for open space, parks and recreation (OPR) earlier this year.
Before the decision, pipelines were only allowed in OPR zones if they were needed to serve an approved recreational use, such as a golf course.
Commissioners agreed to change a county ordinance and grant a conditional use permit so the Bradwood pipeline, which stretches 38 miles from the proposed LNG terminal site east of Astoria to Kelso, Wash., can cross through less than a mile of open space, parks and recreation-zoned land.
The commission's pipeline decision was one of about two dozen required by county government to approve the Bradwood project, but the referendum will not affect any of the other land-use changes the commission made in approving the Bradwood Landing project.
However, the pipeline decision did open the door for other natural gas pipelines - such as the one connected to the Oregon LNG terminal in Warrenton and the Palomar Gas Transmission pipeline - to run through other park land throughout the county.
The referendum will ask voters if they agree with the commission that natural gas pipelines should be allowed as a conditional use in OPR zones. A yes vote will in effect confirm the Clatsop County Commission's decision approving the Bradwood Landing pipeline route. A no vote will overturn the commission's decision on the pipeline and prevent the Bradwood pipeline from crossing the OPR zone.
If the referendum fails, Bradwood project developer NorthernStar will have to change its pipeline route to avoid OPR-zoned land.
Desmond said the referendum won't stop the Bradwood project from moving forward because there are several ways for the company to resolve the pipeline issue - even if voters decide it can't go through the open space, parks and recreation zone.
But members of the local group Clatsop County Citizens for Common Sense, which organized the referendum, say the recent poll is evidence that NorthernStar is worried about the vote.
Lori Durheim, a referendum organizer, said she was wondering when NorthernStar would start campaigning. Her group has received about $11,000 in campaign contributions and has been handing out signs and organizing public meetings for weeks. She and others are warning residents that the poll was not sponsored by her group and could be harmful to their cause.
"I think it's underhanded," she said. "It's trying to confuse people."