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Gas pipeline project on hold

2012 service date fits needs better

A proposed natural gas pipeline project that would run through Klickitat County has been put on hold by Williams Northwest Pipeline officials.

Williams has proposed building a 172-mile pipeline from Stanfield, Ore., to Washougal. The route would carry it through several communities in the area, including Roosevelt, Goldendale, Snowden, and Willard.

"We have decided to postpone the meetings for now because current and prospective shippers on the project have communicated that a 2012 in-service date fits their needs better than a November 2011 date," read a statement from Michele Swaner, corporate communications director for the Salt Lake City-based firm.

Representatives of the pipeline company had planned to come to Klickitat County on Oct. 27-30 as part of a regional series of meetings about the proposed Blue Bridge Pipeline Project. The meetings were designed to meet with landowners and other stakeholder groups to discuss the proposed pipeline project. Sessions that had been scheduled in Goldendale and Prosser, as well as in Stevenson, Camas, and Chehalis, have now been called off.

Opponents of the proposed pipeline have raised concerns about the project, including loss of privacy, decreased property values, threats to wells, increased erosion, and environmental damage.

A group of Snowden residents objecting to the route of the pipeline recently formed a group called Concerned About Blue Bridge (CABB). Members of the group reacted cautiously to the news that the project is being delayed.

"It's hard to say exactly what this all means," said Dee Robertson, one of the coordinators of community opposition to the project in Snowden. "It's tempting to think that the concerns our group has raised have caused them to rethink their plans. Much more likely is that the projected economic downturn for the country and the world has caused Puget Sound Energy to revise its projections for the need for the extra capacity, so they have notified Williams Northwest Pipeline to postpone their schedule by six months."

Regardless of the reasons behind the move, Robertson added that she considers any slowdown in the project -- which had seemed to be on a fast track -- as good news.

"This delay is certainly welcome for those of us who are concerned about the Blue Bridge Pipeline Project, and gives us more time to explore all aspects of the project to ensure that any adverse effects on our our communities are minimized," Robertson said.

Robertson pointed out that when the Snowden community was first informed of the pipeline proposal, oil was selling for about $140 a barrel and speculators believed it could go as high as $200 a barrel.

"There was enormous pressure to develop domestic energy resources, so the proposed new pipeline seemed very much in a hurry up mode to take advantage of the situation," Robertson explained. "If the national and global economic situation continues to deteriorate as many are predicting, I wouldn't be too surprised to see the project delayed even more."

Robertson said she was hopeful there could be a fresh focus on ways to address national energy needs.

"Most of our group believes that the emphasis should be on renewable energy resources instead of more carbon-based resources," Robertson said. "But our immediate concern is that this very high pressure gas pipeline not run through our rural community properties, and instead that it follow the existing pipeline route."

According to Swaner, the pause means the regulatory process and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission pre-filing has been pushed back at least until May of 2009.

"We will conduct community meetings in 2009, and we'll be in touch then," Swaner said.

Klickitat County Commissioner Rex Johnston said county officials would continue to monitor the pipeline proposal.

"We've been working hard to protect the rights of people in that area," Johnston said. "A lot of people are concerned about where the pipeline will go, but it's a federally regulated project and we're limited in what we can do. There may not be a lot we can say, but just last week we wrote a letter requesting that Williams hold a meeting in White Salmon."

The next meeting of Concerned About Blue Bridge will be held on Sunday, Nov. 9, at the Cherry Lane Fire Station. The meeting starts at 7 p.m.


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