Proposed gas line through Solo old-growth stand spurs activists

By Peter Zuckerman The Oregonian
Edition: Sunrise, Section: Metro South

Six years after hundreds of activists sat in trees, sprayed pepper, threw bottles at police, got arrested, brought lawsuits and successfully stopped the Solo timber sale in the Mount Hood National Forest, they once again find themselves fighting to protect the forested area.

Maps of the proposed 211-mile Palomar natural gas line show a freeway-wide clear-cut that would bore through at least part of the Solo timber sale area, a region many activists consider symbolic of their victories against the U.S. Forest Service and the Bush administration to stop logging. The 160-acre sale area, which straddles Peavine Creek, contains large swaths of old-growth forest.

Activists said that if it became necessary, they anticipate waging similar battle to stop the clear-cutting they expect would happen to make way for the pipeline.

People who have walked what they believe to be the pipeline's route said the line would go through many regions of old-growth forest in the Solo timber sale area.

Palomar officials have said they're taking extensive measures to limit the impact the pipeline would have on the forest and that Oregonians need the natural gas supply the pipeline would provide.

"Palomar has worked with various federal and state resource agencies for more than three years to refine its proposed route through sensitive areas," Henry Morse Jr., project manager for the proposed pipeline, said. "After extensive consultation and outreach, we believe we have determined a route that minimizes negative impacts."

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission will make a final decision on the route.

"Palomar estimates that it will be another 18 months before the permitting process is completed," Morse said. He encouraged those with concerns about Palomar's route and construction methods to participate in the permitting process, perhaps proposing "an alternative route that will have less environmental impact than Palomar's proposed route."

Charlie Ferranti, a Portland activist who provided sworn statements during lawsuits against the Forest Service to stop the Solo sale, said it was frustrating to see an area he has worked so hard to save might once again be considered for cutting. He described the area as one of the few remaining old-growth forests, a national treasure that needs to be preserved.

"None of these areas are protected until Congress protects them," he said. "So if you stop one timber sale, there could be another, or another project like this one, so you just keep on going," he said.

He said he would write letters, contact friends and provide any legal help he could to continue protecting the Solo area.

Alex P. Brown, executive director of Bark, a Portland nonprofit that advocates for forest protection, describes the fight for the Solo area as "a wakeup call to Oregonians that the Forest Service could not be relied upon to fully analyze and disclose the impacts of logging these forests."

Bark eventually sued the Forest Service and, after a series of complex rulings, stopped the cutting, partly because it would have destroyed the habitat of a rare species of lichen, the old-growth specklebelly.

The Palomar pipeline would slice through 73 miles of public forest, crossing about 50 rivers and named streams.

At peak construction, Palomar Gas Transmission plans to employ as many as 1,000 workers to clear brush and trees along a 120-foot-wide path, level terrain and bury the pipe in a trench 7 feet deep, according to a report filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Peter Zuckerman: 503-294-5919; peterzuckerman@news.oregonian.com