Bike ride along pipe route brings together three generations of activists
Richard Hanschu doesn't look like your run-of-the-mill environmentalist.
Wearing an old blue shirt and a worn baseball cap, Hanschu stands with a western swagger.
It's exactly what you'd expect from a man who spends his days tending to thousands of 70-year-old trees near Gales Creek.
But Hanschu, who grew up on a dairy farm in Oklahoma, is just as comfortable talking about the environmental impacts of a proposed natural gas pipeline as he is the quality of wood being grown on his family's tree farm.
And last Saturday, Hanschu got a chance to gab with some Pacific University students about the gas pipeline that he and a diverse group of property owners feel will imperil their livelihoods.
'Thank you young people for being interested,' the 68-year-old Hanschu said.
The meet-and-greet came at the end of a bike ride that roughly followed the proposed path of two natural gas pipelines in the works.
The bike ride was organized by Green Jobs Not LNG, a student group opposed to two proposed liquefied natural gas terminals and the pipelines that would snake from the terminals on the Columbia River through Washington County along Gales Creek and eventually to Molalla in Clackamas County.
'To me fighting fossil fuels is the number one way to fight climate change,' said Monica Vaughan, principal organizer of the event. 'So when I see liquid natural gas coming in, it's the number one climate change issue in our region.'
The bike ride gave students an opportunity to meet with landowners along the pipeline and see how the proposals could impact their land.
For Hanschu, a proposed pipeline path that would cut a 150-foot-wide swath through his forestland, winds tumbling down the coast range would rattle his crop to pieces.
'If you cut a wind tunnel of 150 feet in ten years it'll all collapse,''Hanschu said.
For Anne Berblinger, who farms organic vegetables near Gales Creek, the pipeline would mean the loss of her organic certification for a number of years. That would probably put her out of business.
Before Berblinger started farming, she was the Oregon representative for the U.S. Economic Development Administration. Her experience there leads her to believe that any LNG projects will result in an overall loss in jobs.
'It'll have an impact on fishing jobs and forestry jobs,' Berblinger said.
And she won't be able to take fresh greens to farmer's markets around the metro area.
For Anna Lund, a sophomore in sustainable design at Pacific University, connecting the people with the land was invaluable.
'It's great that we could take note of some of the truly inspiring relationships that people have with the land,' Lund said.
Lund said even though Forest Grove city council has voted to oppose the pipelines and the LNG issue has garnered headlines statewide for a couple of years, the issue isn't really a top priority for most students.
'It's kind of under the radar but the people who do know about it know a lot,' Lund said.
Lund did a poetry reading last spring on the LNG issue, which she said drew puzzled outrage from her fellow students.
'People were almost in disbelief,' Lund said. 'How could this be happening?'
The bike ride terminated at Gales Creek Elementary, where State Rep. Chuck Riley, a Hillsboro Democrat, lunched with the activists. Riley told the group about a bill he's pushing that would force LNG developers to prove that there's a need for the gas they're importing and that no domestic supply exists.
'It's common sense,' Riley said.
Having a politician who readily supports the anti-LNG effort is a big turnaround from a year ago, when the issue was still flying below most elected officials radar.
'When I first started lobbying on the issue they said it was a (not-in-my-backyard) issue,' Vaughan said.
But Vaughan said the idea of LNG as an issue bigger than a bunch of neighbors upset about a big pipeline running through their backyards, turned around last April when Gov. Ted Kulongoski was caught off guard by a student's LNG question at Focus the Nation, a national town hall put on by public broadcasting stations across the country.
Kulongoski said that LNG could be a bridge fuel, and the crowd booed him.
That public rebuke was picked up by news stations across the state, and Vaughan said that's when things started turning around.
Soon after the radio show, Kulongoski showed stronger opposition to the proposals, demanding more transparency from the federal regulators that approve the projects.
And when Hillary Clinton came to Hillsboro during the Democratic primary, she asked Berblinger to speak to the crowd about LNG.
The LNG debate is now about the country's future energy needs. That transformation has made waves all the way to Washington, D.C., Riley said.
'Sen. (Jeff) Merkley has sat down with me for a long period of time to talk about this,' said Riley. 'We have someone in Washington.'