New pipeline construction expected this summer

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A possible new natural gas pipeline running north from Rio Blanco County to Wyoming could bring $20 million a year in business personal property taxes to Colorado, according to the pipeline company's forecasts.

Overland Pass Pipeline Co. plans to install a 153-mile, 14-inch natural gas liquids pipeline that will run through Moffat County, from the Meeker area to Wamsutter, Wyo.

About 94 miles will run through Colorado, with a pump station built south of Maybell. The pipeline would carry liquid fuels derived from natural gas, such as propane and butane.

Officials from Overland Pass Pipeline and ONEOK, an Oklahoma-based natural gas company that owns 99 percent of the pipeline, said they plan to start construction this fall. They added July 1, 2009 is the targeted completion date to be done with reclamation and have gas running to Wyoming.

A subsidiary of Oklahoma-based Williams Energy Services, which has large-scale natural gas extraction operations in Rio Blanco County, owns the pipeline's other 1 percent.

Steve Johnson, ONEOK government relations director, said his company will be here to stay, not sell the pipeline when its finished.

"We're building the pipeline to use it, operate it and be a permanent part of the community," he said.

He added that ONEOK's commitment to the area is paramount and shown in their negotiations with local private landowners and the Bureau of Land Management, which is the lead agency for federal permitting.

Moffat County Commissioner Tom Mathers and Jeff Comstock, county Natural Resources Department director, said ONEOK seemed ready to work with the county and any other parties involved.

An impact to private land hunting revenues from ongoing construction was one issue discussed.

Johnson said ONEOK offered those landowners compensation in return for construction allowances. ONEOK would pay for losses after the hunting season ends, or pay an amount equal to a landowner's average hunting earnings the last three years.

"They're really wanting to work with everybody to get this done," Mathers said.

Johnson and other pipeline officials could not say how many local workers would be hired.

Jeremy Wiese, Overland Pass Pipeline project manager, said his company will bid the project to national companies, and whoever receives the project will hire their own subcontractors.

Wiese said the project will be broken into two parts, with each demanding between 120 to 150 workers at its peak. Construction would ramp up in the beginning of each phase, he added, and taper off toward the end.

Mathers said the only regrettable part about the pipeline plan is that local hotels will be hit hard with simultaneous demand from hunters and workers.

"It's going to be really good for the economy of Craig," he said. "Unfortunately, our hotels are going to be dually impacted during the hunting time because of the guys with the pipeline, just like last time" natural resource pipelines were built.

Mark Mackiewicz, BLM national project manager, is heading his agency's work on the pipeline's Environmental Assessment out of his Price, Utah office.

The BLM chose to pursue an Environmental Assessment - as opposed to a more involved Environmental Impact Statement - because about 90 percent of the new pipeline runs alongside two other pipelines already in the ground, Mackiewicz said.

"We feel we've covered most of the impacts and mitigations in those other Environmental Impact Statements," he added.

However, if the assessment concludes there are "significant" impacts that cannot be mitigated with the existing construction plan, Mackiewicz said, the BLM will begin a new Environmental Impact Statement process.

BLM officials expect to have a final Environmental Assessment out this summer, with a 30-day public comment period following.

Kent Walter, manager for the BLM White River Field Office in Meeker, will have final authority to approve the pipeline's decision record, which will grant Overland Pass its rights of way on federal lands.

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