Officials reroute pipeline

Monday, September 18, 2006

Plans for a cross-country natural gas pipeline set to cut a swath through northern Putnam County have been changed, officials with the project announced recently.

Within the last couple of weeks, organizers of the Rockies Express Pipeline decided to reroute the 42-inch, underground line south around the town of Bainbridge, rather than north, due to concerns with Fortune Woods Nature Preserve which is located to the north of town along Big Walnut Creek.

The news came to a crowd of about 100 farmers, business owners and residents from across western Indiana and eastern Illinois who attended a public hearing of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission near Rockville last Thursday night.

Tom Fey, a field agent for Rockies Express Pipeline, said the pipeline will cross from the north side of U.S. 36 to the south side about a mile east of U.S. 231 and will stay south of the highway the remainder of its jog toward Indianapolis. This is a change from the original route which had the pipeline on the north side of U.S. 36 to near New Winchester in Hendricks County.

Ryan Childs, the environmental manager for the pipeline project, said the decision to move the proposed route came after several groups, including the Indiana Department of Environmental Manage-ment and the Nature Conservancy, expressed concern about the nature preserve.

Rather than try to take the pipeline further north around the preserve, pipeline officials decided to take the route south of Bainbridge, Childs said.

Childs said there are no plans to officially notify residents living along the original route about the change, however, those who now find themselves in the new route will be notified, if they have not been already.

Currently surveyors are out in several parts of the area scoping out the proposed pipeline route. Childs said the route could change again, depending on what surveyors find out in the field.

Doug Sipe, with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, organizers of Thursday night's meeting, urged property owners to cooperate with the survey crews, however, property owners should have been notified prior to the surveyors arriving.

During the meeting, the idea of eminent domain was discussed.

Sipe said it is true that the pipeline company has the legal right to take property for the pipeline if the owner refuses to negotiate an agreement to purchase it. However, he said the company and the surveyors are not permitted to threaten property owners with it.

A number of property owners and concerned citizens attended the meeting to express opinions on the pipeline.

The leader of Indiana's Farm Bureau agency took his turn at the microphone to tell federal officials that he is concerned about the state's farmers and wants to ensure they are treated fairly throughout the entire process.

Farm Bureau President Don Villwock, himself a farmer in Knox County, gave the federal commission a list of concerns he would like to see the pipeline company address. Topping the list is making sure the pipeline is buried to the proper depth.

Pipeline officials said the gas line would be buried to a minimum of 3 feet. But based on the comments made by some farmers in the crowd, they feel that is not deep enough.

Villwock also said he wants the pipeline company to put the topsoil back in place once the gas line is buried because farmers count on the rich topsoil to grow their crops.

Villwock agreed with one Hendricks County farmer at the meeting who said he is concerned about the integrity of the tile system in his field that is vital to draining off excess rainwater.

Farmer Steve Stamper expressed frustration with a pipeline that already exists on one of his fields. He said several of his field tiles had been cut and that he has been unable to get anyone to take responsibility for do it.

Villwock's list of concerns also included making sure the soil is not left with ruts in it or is compacted by heavy machinery, that all chemicals such as lime are replaced in the soil after construction and that repairs are made to existing soil conservation practices.

He said Farm Bureau has hired a full-time staff member to answer concerns of farmers and monitor the progress of the pipeline in the state. Farm Bureau plans to hold its own meetings for farmers concerning the pipeline in the future.

Last week's meeting was one of several that were conducted by the Regulatory Commission. Comments taken from the public will be put into an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that will help the agency determine whether Rockies Express is allowed to construct the pipeline.

Rockies Express is planning to officially petition the Energy Commission in April for permits to construct the pipeline.

Pipeline officials hope to begin construction of the line in the area in 2008.

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