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Cob facility appoints new spokesman

Tax break discussions on the Cob Energy Facility were put on hold this week as Cob parent company Peoples Energy replaced its spokesman.

The Cob Energy Facility is a proposed 1,150-megawatt gas-fired power plant that would be built near Bonanza. The Oregon Energy Facility Siting Council is expected to grant or deny a site license to Cob by November. New Cob spokesman Paul Turner said Tuesday that Cob will not seek an increasingly unpopular tax break for its project until the state decides whether the power plant can be built.

Turner is the immediate supervisor of Rob Trotta, the public face of the Cob project until a few days ago. Trotta's three-year contract with the company expired in June, and he has moved to part-time status with Peoples Energy so he can attend graduate school, Turner said.

Turner said the negative public reaction to Trotta and to Cob's tax deal at last Monday's Klamath Falls City Council meeting had nothing to do with Trotta's reassignment. However, he said the recent backlash against Cob has convinced the company it should hold off on its negotiations for a tax break.

"With all this upheaval it's very unsettling with our company. I'm just going to be completely honest about it, it's caught us by surprise," Turner said. "We've had a number of people asking us 'Why are you pushing (tax breaks) when you don't even have your permit?'"

As the state ponders its siting decision, Turner will take the tax deal off the table and decide how much extra money to offer the county in exchange for a 15-year tax-free enterprise zone. Originally, Trotta offered $1 million a year. During the Aug. 16 city council meeting, he raised the amount to $1.5 million a year. But Turner said his talks with community leaders have convinced him the company still isn't offering enough to offset an estimated $71 million property tax break.

"I've been in meetings with a lot of the city leaders here, and have made a decision: We've got to close the gap with what we would pay in property tax and what the proposed pilot deal was," he said.

Turner's announcement produced a mixed reaction from Klamath County commissioners.

Commissioners Al Switzer and John Elliott said they were pleased Cob was considering offering a better deal, and agreed waiting until the state makes a decision is a good plan.

"I'll even go one step further," Switzer said. "I don't think that we should decide the enterprise zone until after the appeal process is exhausted."

Opponents of the Cob have vowed to fight the project to the Oregon Supreme Court.

But Commissioner Steve West, who will leave the commission after his term expires at the end of the year, questioned shifting the enterprise zone vote until after the Nov. 2 election.

"I'm concerned that the postponement of the enterprise zone could be looked at as politicizing it," he said. "It's obviously a very controversial issue. And both the deal-making bodies have representatives that are up for election in November."

Meetings on the enterprise zone have now been rescheduled by Klamath County, tabled by the city, and then rescheduled again by the county until the city makes its decision.

Elliott said he didn't view postponing the decision as politicizing the issue.

"I hadn't looked at it that way, I guess," he said.

While Turner is ready to negotiate a higher payment for the tax break, he said the company won't consider moving its proposed site from exclusive farm use in the Langell Valley to an industrial zone in Klamath Falls.

"At this point, given with what we've invested here and been through, we're not moving," he said. "We're not going to an industrial zone. We're not starting over somewhere else anew. Because the clock would start ticking all over again."





Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:14 AM  Pacific

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