WARRENTON - State Sen. Betsy Johnson is worried Oregon LNG's proposed liquefied natural gas facility on Warrenton's Skipanon Peninsula will be a hazard for planes flying in and out of the Astoria Regional Airport.
Johnson, a licensed commercial pilot, said after reviewing regulations she believes the project's 195-foot-tall LNG storage tanks will protrude into protected air space around the airport and put pilots and the surrounding community at risk.
The project includes three storage tanks, each about the height of a 17-story building and nearly as wide as a football field is long. The tanks will hold the supercooled LNG liquid delivered by ship to the facility, which will reheat the gas to a vapor and distribute it via pipeline as needed.
Oregon LNG Chief Executive Officer Peter Hansen said even if the tops of the storage tanks do enter protected airspace, he doesn't think they qualify as a hazard to the airport under federal rules. He submitted an application to the Federal Aviation Administration to determine whether Johnson is right.
Johnson sent a letter to warn the Port of Astoria Commission about the dangers of building LNG storage tanks near the airport in Warrenton. The Port runs the airport and leases the proposed facility site to Oregon LNG.
"As an experienced pilot, I believe the location and height of the proposed liquefied natural gas tanks are dangerous to the citizens living around the airport, and to the crews that land and take off at the airport," Johnson wrote in a letter dated June 11.
In the letter, Johnson asked the Port to hold a hearing on the issue "in the very near future."
The Port hasn't planned a hearing yet, said Port Director of Operations Ron Larsen.
"The Port is waiting to see what the FAA has to say," he said. "They're the ones who make the determination as to whether something like that would be disruptive to the airport. ... They could say it's perfectly fine, just make sure you put lights on it."
Larsen said the Port didn't know at the outset of the Oregon LNG project that the LNG storage tanks would be so tall they would enter the protected airspace. Now, he said, it does appear the tops of the tanks will cut into that space.
The Port and the public will get a chance to comment on the FAA review, Larsen said. The time to hold a hearing on the issue, as Johnson suggested, would be when the FAA releases public information about its review, he said.
Johnson said the Port's Airport Airspace Plan outlines protected airspace, which rises up and outward from the airport like stadium seating around a football field.
"The (plan) exists for the safety of the pilots, crew and those on the ground," she wrote. "Development that intrudes into the airport's airspace creates a hazard to aviation and threatens the vitality of the airport."
To build the storage tanks, Johnson said Oregon LNG will need a waiver from the FAA to enter the protected airspace, and she doesn't think the company should get one. Johnson has been a vocal opponent of the Oregon LNG project and has been less critical of the competing Bradwood Landing LNG project, proposed for a site 20 miles east of Astoria on the Columbia River.
"After all our collective hard work to secure air service for Astoria, Oregon LNG's proposed facility could jeopardize the greater use of our airport and existing airport operations," she said.
Hansen said the FAA has its own formula for deciding whether a building or structure around an airport qualifies as an "obstruction" or a "hazard." The agency requires precautions to be taken to alert pilots to obstructions, Hansen said, but hazards can be a more serious issue.
Hansen submitted an application to the FAA a month ago to determine the airport safety issues associated with his development. The review is standard for any tall structure around an airport, whether it's an LNG storage tank, a windmill or an antennae, he said. He expects the agency to complete its review within the next month or two.
"They are in the process of doing the study," Hansen said. "We believe the FAA should be left alone to make that determination."
In an interview Friday, Johnson said she could be wrong about the FAA requirements, but she wants the Port to look into the issue.
"I think this is pretty serious, and not a good thing," she said.