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Putnam wildlife, waterways affected by REX pipeline

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Issues surrounding the protection of Putnam County's Big Walnut Creek garnered notable interest in a recent environmental report from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) in its review of a proposed natural gas pipeline to be built here next year.

On a short list of scenic waterways from a four-state area, Big Walnut was one of only two Indiana rivers to get special attention by the federal agency in its review of the Rockies Express Pipeline (REX) project, a proposed 42-inch line to run from Wyoming to Ohio, crossing Putnam and surrounding counties along the way.

In their report, officials from FERC expressed concern with the method REX is proposing to use in crossing the creek south of Bainbridge. REX officials are proposing an open trench be cut across the creek about 1 mile downstream from the Baker's Camp covered bridge.

"The Indiana Depart-ment of Environmental Management and Fish and Wildlife Service are concerned about the proposed open-cut trench through Big Walnut Creek and the amount of tree clearing proposed through its wooded riparian habitat," the FERC report states. "The proposed tree clearing would change the vegetation, thereby impacting the viewshed, wildlife, aquatic species, predation, and recreational enjoyment."

FERC is recommending that REX officials not cut a trench across the creek but instead use the horizontal directional drilling (HDD) method, which would not disturb the creekbed. FERC officials said they felt this was the better of the two options for minimizing the negative impact of the creek and surrounding forested area. They also said they were concerned that canoeists and boaters would not be able to pass through the area during construction.

The report states: "We recognize that the workspace for our recommended Big Walnut Creek horizontal directional drilling crossing would be within a forested area; however, utilizing this construction method would limit the impact to the waterbody bed and banks and the riparian habitat."

Additionally, FERC speculated that "noise and dust from construction, along with silty water could temporarily (during construction and restoration) reduce the enjoyment of those using the area for recreation.

"Visual impacts to individuals using Big Walnut Creek and adjacent areas would occur during construction due to the use of the open-cut crossing method. Short-term visual impacts would result from the clearing of 1.7 acres of forest land and use of 1 acre of agricultural land during construction," the report states. "Long-term visual impacts to users of this area would result from the removal of about 0.2 acres of forested land within the permanent right-of-way. The removal of trees at the crossing would impact users by opening up the existing canopy. We believe that more can be done to reduce the impact on recreation in this area. "

FERC has also recommended that REX file a site-specific mitigation plan for the Big Walnut Creek crossing that includes a reduction of tree clearing at the crossing site, a revegetation plan including the planting of native vegetation, and a portage plan for users of Big Walnut Creek, including assistance in moving the canoes/floats around the crossing location if needed.

Bainbridge compressor station

Another section of the FERC report, where Putnam County is specifically mentioned, involves a proposed compressor station, which is an aboveground structure that helps move the natural gas through the line. There are seven such stations proposed along the pipeline route, between Wyoming and Ohio. One is proposed to be built west of Bainbridge.

According to the FERC report, a compressor station will consist of a compressor building, utility building, utility room, storage/shop room, valves and piping.

At the Bainbridge facility, 20.8 acres of land is being sought and there are four possible locations, according to the FERC report. From the report, it appears REX has settled on a site south of U.S. 36, just east of the Shortcut Road (CR 25 West), for it preferred location.

Other sites were considered north of U.S. 36, just west of CR 25 West; about a mile south of Bainbridge on CR 200 East; and just north of Heritage Lake in Floyd Township. FERC cited residential concerns as the reason for not recommending those locations for the compressor station.

FERC also noted that air quality was considered in regards to the compressor sites. According to the FERC report, REX will follow all guidelines of the National Ambient Air Quality Standards.

FERC believes the compressor stations will have "mostly limited adverse environmental impacts."

Putnam County wildlife

Meanwhile, wildlife also found its place in the FERC report, specifically the Indiana bat and the bald eagle. The Indiana bat is a federally-listed endangered animal, while the bald eagle is not.

FERC noted that there are bald eagles nests along Big Walnut Creek and that REX should do all it can to protect those sites. FERC has recommended that REX officials identify all the nesting sites in the area of the pipeline.

Further, they recommended that REX limit disruptions to the nest from February to July, the time when eagles are actively preparing nests or rearing their young. REX is seeking to begin work on the pipeline in April of next year.

As for the endangered Indiana bat, the FERC report says habitats have been positively identified along Big Raccoon Creek and Big Walnut Creek. Two Indiana bats were positively identified in Putnam County, but not roosting sites were found, according to the report.

REX is proposing to burn the trees and brush it cuts during the construction of the pipeline, onsite. FERC has specified that REX is not to burn brush near known Indiana bat habitats. Also, they cannot work at dusk or dawn, as this is the time when the bats are actively flying, the FERC report states.

REX has also been instructed, according to the FERC report, not to use herbicides or pesticides, for the life of the project, to maintain permanent rights-of-way for the pipeline.

The Indiana bat is among only 13 endangered species, including animals and plants, that are to be affected by the pipeline project, according to the report. The Indiana bat, which is the only mammal on the list, is also the only one of the 13 species that FERC classified as "likely to be adversely affected" by the pipeline project.

Homes in Putnam County

Finally, private residences are also to be affected by the pipeline, according to the report, including two in Putnam County.

The two homes, one located on CR 400 West and the other on CR 625 West, are within 50 feet of the pipeline right-of-way. One is only 18 feet from the proposed work area for the pipeline.

FERC said REX is required to provide these homeowners with site-specific plans for their property.

The proposed 42-inch pipeline will run from Wyoming to its terminus at Dominion Transmission Inc. and Texas Eastern Transmission Company, located in Monroe County, Ohio. The eastern leg of that project, which includes the states of Missouri, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio, is set to begin next year, pending final approval by the feds.

Other highlights from the FERC report include:

* 14,348 acres of land (74 percent of it farmland) will be disturbed by the pipeline project.

* FERC anticipates compaction, mixing of the soils and introduction of rock to take place in the agricultural areas as a result of the pipeline project.

* The pipeline will cross 1,462 surface bodies of water.

* No "essential fish habitats" will be affected by this project, according to the FERC report.

* The pipeline will cross 487 miles of open land, including agriculture or prairie; and 144 miles of forested land.

* Impact on farmland is expected to be temporary to short-term, while impact on forests will be long-term to permanent, according to the FERC report.

* REX officials will revegetate non-agricultural areas.

* Most wildlife is expected to flee the construction areas, while immobile wildlife such as fledgling birds or slow-moving animals, may die during the construction.

* REX has not finalized its plans to reduce impact in the forested areas.

* REX has proposed to compensate landowners for reduced yields. Fertility of soils could be affected for several years, according to the FERC report. FERC is recommending that REX create a five-year post-construction monitoring program to address these concerns.

* A total of 84 residences, along the entire project area, are within 50 feet of work areas, four of which are in the permanent right-of-way. FERC has recommended site-specific mitigation plans to reduce impacts of noise, dust and vehicle traffic for these 84 residences.

* There are 31 special-interest areas, including parks, nature trails, nature preserves and scenic areas that will be affected by this project. REX had not provided site-specific plans for these areas at the time FERC created its report.

* In Indiana, 494 archeological and architectural resources have been identified in the propose pipeline area, but none in Putnam County.

The public is invited to comment

FERC recently completed its preliminary Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) regarding the REX project and made copies available to the public for review. The project received FERC's preliminary stamp of approval.

REX is proposing to begin the eastern leg of the pipeline next year, provided it gets final approval by FERC in the first half of 2008. If approved, construction could begin next year.

The public still has a chance to make comments about the project. Prior to FERC making its final determination, the public is invited to a comment meeting at 6 p.m. Monday, Jan. 7 at Clark's Reception Hall, located about 1 mile east of Rockville, on the south side of U.S. 36, in Parke County.

The public will have a chance to ask questions and to make comments about the environmental study at this time.

For those residents unable to attend the meeting, written comments can be sent to: Kimberly D. Bose, secretary, FERC, 888 First St. NE, Room 1A, Washington, D.C. 20426. The original and two additional copies must be received in Washington on or before Jan. 14 in order to be considered.

Comments can also be sent on the Internet at ferc.gov. Go to the e-filing link to find out how to send comments electronically.

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