Local input sought on pipeline

Thursday, September 7, 2006

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission announced recently that it is seeking public input on the proposed Rockies Express natural gas pipeline slated to cut a swath through northern Putnam County beginning in March of 2008.

The regulatory commission has scheduled nine public meetings, around the Midwest in the next two weeks, where it will accept comments from the general public on the potential environmental impacts of the project.

The closest meeting to Putnam County is scheduled for next week in Parke County. All residents, local government officials and interested land owners are invited to attend the meeting from 7-10 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 14 at the Clark"s Hall Reception Area in Rockville.

Similar meetings will be conducted in Indiana at Greensburg High School on Monday, Sept. 11 and Greenwood Middle School on Tuesday, Sept. 12. Those meetings are scheduled for 7 p.m. as well.

The regulatory commission said in a recent mailing to landowners that it is in the process of putting together an environmental impact statement (EIS) that it will use to help determine whether or not to issue permits for the pipeline project.

Pipeline officials have yet to officially request permits from the regulatory commission for the project.

The pipeline, which is a joint project of Kinder Morgan Energy Partners, Sempra Pipelines & Storage, and ConocoPhillips, is being billed as the largest such project to take place in the United States in more than 20 years and is estimated to cost $4 billion to construct.

Kinder Morgan CEO Richard Kinder is a former Enron executive who resigned in 1996 after serving under Kenneth Lay, former Enron chairman who died last year while awaiting sentencing for securities fraud and related convictions.

The Rockies Express project comes at the same time other pipeline companies across the western United States are expanding their lines in hopes of capitalizing on the Midwestern natural gas market.

Panhandle Eastern, with pipelines already running through northern parts of the county, is also considering an expansion, according to its website.

The eastern phase of the Rockies Express Project, which includes Indiana, is set to begin near the town of Mexico, Mo. and end in Monroe County, Ohio. The pipe itself will be 42 inches in diameter and will run underground across the states of Missouri, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio, a distance of 622 miles.

Along the pipeline, there will be five compressor stations, one of them projected to be built near Bainbridge.

In addition, there will be approximately 20 interconnects or meter stations located along the pipeline, to include one at an unspecified location also in Putnam County.

According to documents sent to landowners in the mail late last month, the regulatory commission has created a preliminary list of potential issues it feels need to be discussed and is asking for specific impact from the public.

Specifically, the commission has identified the Big Walnut Nature Preserve, located on Big Walnut Creek near Bainbridge, as a site of potential environmental impact. Preliminary plans call for the pipeline to cross the property.

Other general areas of concern include impacts on the agricultural land and irrigation systems, impact of construction on prime farmland soils, impact on groundwater and wells, bodies of water, wildlife, potential land use conflicts with planned and future development, restrictions on future use of pipeline rights-of-way, impact on air quality and ambient noise created by compressor stations (like the one proposed for Bainbridge), as well as safety concerns over the transportation of natural gas through underground pipelines.

The commission announced that there are several ways for the public to share its concerns in addition to attending the meetings.

Electronic messages can be sent to the commission using the Internet. More information and a list of instructions on how to send messages is available on the commission website: www.ferc.gov, under the "eFiling" link and the link to "User"s Guide."

Participants will be asked to complete an online registration form before sending their comments.

Also, the public can send comments by mail. The commission asks that comments (an original and two copies) be sent no later than Sept. 29 to: Magalie R. Salas, Secretary, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, 888 First St., N.E., Room 1A, Washington, D.C., 20426.

The commission has set a cutoff date of Sept. 29 for all environmental comments from the public.

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