Property owners in the Snowden area are expressing concern and alarm about a proposal to build a new natural gas pipeline through the community.
A partnership of two energy companies are working on what is being called the "Blue Bridge Pipeline Project." Plans call for the transport of natural gas in 30-inch and 36-inch diameter pipe from Stanfield, Ore. -- in the northeastern corner of Oregon -- to Washougal in Clark County.
The 172-mile route would pass through Roosevelt, Goldendale, Snowden, and Willard.
"We first heard about this at our meeting in July," said Louis Huszar, chair of the Snowden Community Council. "It came as a surprise to everybody."
"At this point, the pipeline is set to go through our land. We don't want it, and everyone who lives on Sanborn Road opposes it," said Kristine Stein, one of those trying to stop the pipeline.
Stein and her family have lived on a 15-acre parcel on Sanborn Road for more than a decade.
The project is being planned by Williams Northwest Pipeline (WNP) and Puget Sound Energy (PSE), and the energy companies have already solicited bids for binding commitments from shippers seeking to participate in the proposed pipeline.
Stein said she wasn't going to stand by quietly and watch her property torn apart for a pipeline.
"Me and my husband went to so much trouble to get this house," she said. "It's a wonderful place up here, and I plan to fight as hard as I can to keep my dream."
A company representative said demand for energy was fueling the project.
"We're seeing tremendous demand in the West for the energy, and there just hasn't been the pipeline infrastructure to handle that," explained Michele Swaner, a spokesperson for WNP, based in Salt Lake City, Utah. "And the demands are going to continue. That's the way the energy market is now in the United States."
Swaner added that natural gas "is the cleanest fossil fuel out there."
"Both the Puget Sound region and Oregon's Willamette Valley continue to experience steady growth in their economies and populations -- and in their demand for clean-burning natural gas," added Kimberly Harris, executive vice president and chief resource officer for PSE. "This project will provide the additional natural gas supply we'll need to sustain regional growth and vitality for years to come."
Despite the glowing pronouncements from industry officials, however, those who will be directly impacted with a pipeline across their property are upset and ready to fight.
"I'm sure doing everything I can to help stop this," said Jim Cooper, who has lived in the Snowden area for the past 11 years. "It will impact the whole area and affect everybody. I haven't found anybody in favor of it -- except the Williams people."
Swaner said most of the Blue Bridge pipeline route would follow an existing pipeline corridor constructed in 1955-56. According to Williams, following the previous pipeline route would offer "efficiencies" and also "minimize the effect on landowners and the environment."
However, some along the proposed route questioned the contention by Williams' officials that the new line would follow an existing route.
Cooper said the new pipeline is proposed to be routed directly through his five acres, but he pointed out that the existing pipeline is about a mile and half away from his property.
"The community is quite concerned about it, obviously." Huszar added. "The company is looking for 150-foot easements, and people are naturally concerned about that going through their property."
Cooper said that if the pipeline comes in, he's leaving.
"It will make me have to move," Cooper said. "The pipeline would probably take half of my five acres. And sitting here with all the activities along the pipeline, this would not be a good place to live. I'm used to seeing deer and bear, and I don't want to see four-wheel drive vehicles going up and down the pipeline. Plus, it's dangerous. Explosions don't happen real often, but when they do happen, it's disastrous. I don't think I want to retire next to a pipeline."
Stein said that so far, she knows of 25 property owners who object to the pipeline coming across their land. One of the primary concerns cited is the impact of pipeline construction on wells and springs.
"We already have problems with water in the area," she said. "They use bentonite clay, and that can get into wells."
Cooper added that he fears the investment he made to have a well put in will be for naught.
"I have a brand new well that cost me over $10,000," he explained. "And I'm afraid that where they're going to put that pipeline will ruin my well."
Stein said there were other issues as well.
"It lowers our property values, and they pay a minimal amount for the pipeline easement. That takes away our privacy, because they are flying overhead, using airplanes to monitor the pipeline. We want our homes to be our homes," Stein explained. "With eminent domain, they can just take your land at some point. They call it `just compensation,' but that doesn't account for what you want to do with your land."
Erosion and invasive weeds were also cited as concerns related to the project.
"After they clear an area, invasive weeds often start to grow there," she said.
The pipeline is tentatively proposed to be completed in November 2011. According to Swaner, the actual construction work would start sometime in 2010.
Swaner said National Scenic Area restrictions would not necessarily deter the project.
"We'll work with all the permitting agencies to work out those issues. It's a long, involved process," Swaner said.
Pipeline company officials pointed out that the project has not been finalized.
"It's still very preliminary," Swaner said. "We haven't filed yet with FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission)."
Swaner added that controversy was not uncommon with pipeline projects.
"That's the nature of the way our society is right now. We used to be called the `invisible industry.' That's not true any more," she explained.
Stein said one tool landowners have to stop the project is to deny access to the surveyors hired by the pipeline company.
"They are asking private owners if they can come onto their land for a survey," she said. "We're trying to spread the word so everyone says `No.'"
"If people say we can't survey on their property, we will not go on their property," said Swaner. "If we are aware of a problem, we'll sit down and work with the landowner to find a solution for everybody."
Swaner said WNP welcomes public input.
"There will be many opportunities for people to comment all along the process. And it's important for people to do that and get involved," Swaner said. "We encourage people to get involved in the process."
Huszar pointed out that Williams Northwest Pipeline officials are scheduled to attend the Aug. 5 meeting of the Snowden Community Council. The meeting will be held at the Cherry Lane Fire Station, beginning at 7 p.m.
"The Williams' folks are supposed to come to our meeting so the community can ask them some pointed questions," Huszar said. "I'm hoping they are going to present some detail."
Another public meeting about the proposed pipeline -- this one organized by local residents -- is scheduled for Sunday, July 27 at 7 p.m., also at the Cherry Lane Fire Station.
Cooper said he was not overly optimistic about the local landowners' abilities to stop the project.
"There are only a few families out here, and I would imagine a company the size of Williams will run over us," Cooper said.