Although it was welcome news, a letter advising some Snowden-area residents that a proposed natural gas pipeline will no longer be coming through their property is raising new questions among property owners.
In recent months, property owners in Snowden -- and in particular those who live along Sanborn Road -- have organized to try to keep a gas pipeline from crossing their rural property.
The 172-mile pipeline route is projected to carry natural gas from Stanfield, Ore., to Washougal. Much of the route would run through Klickitat County.
Unexpectedly, in a letter dated Nov. 20, Williams Northwest Pipeline Co. officials said the proposed Blue Bridge pipeline route through Snowden was being changed.
The text of the letter sent to affected property owners reads as follows:
"Dear Property Owner: This letter is to inform you that your property will no longer be directly affected in the Blue Bridge Pipeline Project," it read. "The regulatory process favors co-locating new pipeline facilities with existing utility corridors. The proximity of your property to an existing utility corridor subjected it to our preliminary routing process. You should know that we contacted hundreds of landowners in preparation of Blue Bridge to provide the necessary flexibility to ensure the most constructible, least impacting route. Your cooperation and assistance throughout this process has been greatly appreciated."
The letter was signed by Rodney Gregory, a Williams Pipeline official.
Leaders of the group Concerned About Blue Bridge (CABB) have cited safety concerns, loss of privacy, deceased property values, impacts to water aquifers, erosion, and damage to wildlife and the environment.
While many were relieved to learn that the pipeline's proposed route had been shifted away from their property, CABB members said the letter has sparked additional questions.
"As you can see, the letter says only that the property of the addressee is no longer being considered as a route for the pipeline," explained Dee Robertson, one of the organizers of CABB. "The language makes it sound as though more effort will be made to follow the existing natural gas pipeline."
Robertson said the new map he has from Williams Pipeline Co. shows the area immediately to the east of Sanborn Road, as well as the north end of Sanborn.
"The proposed route has been modified by moving it approximately one-quarter to one-half mile to the south," Robertson explained. "This map shows the pipeline crossing the east fork of Major Creek within the BPA right of way. It follows the BPA right of way until Dorsey Road, then hooks up with the original proposed route."
According to Robertson, the potential route changes do not mean the area is no longer impacted.
"Some property owners who were originally affected no longer are affected, yet others will now be affected," he pointed out.
Robertson added that the revised plans could affect additional property owners in the area who were not on the route first being considered.
However, Williams Pipeline Co. officials point out that no final routing decision has yet been made.
"We're still in the process of finalizing the route, so it isn't definite at this point," explained Michele Swaner of Williams' corporate communications office in Salt Lake City. "With any proposed pipeline project, we often review a number of alternative routes; first and foremost, the route must be constructible. Then we look at landowner and natural resource concerns that may cause us to shift one way or another. We encourage landowners to work with us throughout the process and believe that public involvement in the early stages of a project provides long-term benefits for everybody."
Swaner added that the federal government has the final say in deciding the path for a pipeline.
"Although we can suggest a number of alterative routes for a pipeline project, ultimately, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has the jurisdiction to determine the final route," Swaner said.
Williams Pipeline representatives recently said the project was being delayed from a proposed completion date of 2011 to 2012 to accommodate the needs of "current and prospective shippers on the project."
However, Swaner said that does not necessarily mean there will be any slowdown in the process Williams is following.
"Our shippers have communicated that an in-service date of 2012 better fits their needs, but that said, we believe we are still on target to begin the pre-filing process for the project in February 2009," she explained.
Robertson said he was concerned to hear that the Dallesport office for the Blue Bridge Pipeline Project would be closing temporarily.
"This does not seem appropriate for BBPP to inform the public of these changes and then to shut the doors," Robertson said. "This is greatly affecting our area, and we all should have the right for communication on this. I am requesting they keep communication open for all the newly affected and previously affected land owners of the BBPP proposal."
Gregory said the closure would not restrict property owners from being able to have their voices heard.
"We have temporarily closed the Dallesport office until February 2009; however, I am still available to respond to questions and concerns by phone or through e-mail," Gregory explained. "Temporary closure of the office will not hinder, limit, or affect the ability of affected landowners to participate in the process."
Gregory said property owners with questions could contact him at: (425) 868-1010, ext. 2052; or via e-mail at: email@example.com.
The next meeting of Concerned About Blue Bridge is set for Sunday, Dec. 7, at 7 p.m. at the Cherry Lane Fire Station.