WHEN PEMBINA PIPELINE'S flags appeared on the proverbial horizon last September, officials seemed ready to roll out a carpet and weave laurels.
The Port of Portland glowed over hundreds of new jobs (most in construction) promised by a $500 million propane terminal the Canadian company had proposed in North Portland. Mayor Charlie Hales cheered potential millions in yearly property taxes that could be used for schools and infrastructure.
"This is great news," Hales said at the time.
Now, with Pembina's banners far closer at hand, the situation's turned weird and sinister. The company's going to try to storm the gates.
On Thursday, May 7, news emerged that Hales' position on the propane terminal has soured in the last eight months. Where he once saw a potential legacy project, the mayor now sees mostly scores of outraged citizens who won't stand for green Portland shipping millions of gallons of fossil fuels to China.
"They lost the public opinion in Portland in such a dramatic manner," says Dana Haynes, Hales' chief spokesman.
So Hales is urging Pembina to withdraw its proposal—which would require city council to modify the zoning code—and find another city.
Pembina straight up doesn't care.
The company responded to the news by saying it "plans to proceed toward next steps" for the terminal, mayoral support or no, and that it's "confident" the city will ultimately support the deal. The Port of Portland agreed, doubling down in support of the propane monstrosity.
Hales' response? It looks like city council won't take up the matter at all.
An agenda of upcoming council items issued Tuesday, May 12, shows a conspicuous absence where the June 10 Pembina zoning hearing had been. Mayoral staffers didn't respond to my repeated queries about the meeting, but auditor's office employee Sue Parsons confirmed "they're not rescheduling it."
It's an interesting move, since Pembina's ask is no run-of-the-mill ordinance. It comes with a stamp of approval from the Portland Planning and Sustainability Commission, which last month passed the proposal along with a recommendation city council make proposed zoning changes.
City law says the auditor has to schedule a city council hearing after such a recommendation—though it doesn't technically say one needs to be held.
Even if Hales decides, ultimately, to bring the matter forward, there's no sign Pembina's "confidence" is remotely warranted. Commissioner Amanda Fritz is considered a near certain 'no' vote, and Commissioner Steve Novick has serious questions about how a propane terminal could be made safe for the Big One. (Both commissioners, like Hales, are up for re-election next year.) The remaining commissioners, Dan Saltzman and Nick Fish, haven't shown strong feelings either way.
I asked Port of Portland spokesman Steve Johnson twice if he saw a way forward for the terminal, given all this. The first time, he didn't answer. The second, he sent along a canned statement that still didn't answer.
"We have no interest," it said, "in trying to predetermine the outcome of this process before it runs its course."
And if this somehow isn't the finish line? Things are about to get a lot more interesting.