By JESSE BURKHARDT
Maybe those meetings in which area residents blasted plans for a natural gas pipeline coming across their land made an impact.
Opponents of a proposed pipeline that was going to be routed east-west across Klickitat County, including coming through the Snowden area, are celebrating reports that Williams/Northwest Pipeline Co. has decided to follow a different route.
The company has announced it now plans to more closely follow the path of an existing gas pipeline through the county. In recent months, many residents, as well as the Board of County Commissioners, had urged that Williams/Northwest do just that.
The original proposal was to construct a new 30-inch pipeline from Plymouth to Washougal, with most, but not all, of the new line going in an existing pipeline right of way. The areas where the line deviates from the existing route sparked controversy and concern among many residents whose land would be affected. They cited safety risks, loss of property value, and a decline in quality of life.
A group of Snowden-area citizens formed an organization called Citizens Against Blue Bridge (CABB) in an effort to stop the proposed pipeline from crossing their property.
Williams/Northwest spokesperson Michele Swaner explained that market conditions led to the reconfiguration of the pipeline project.
"Our initial project scope required that we permit approximately 156 miles of pipeline," Swaner explained. "Due to changes in the market and the demand for less natural gas, the proposed Blue Bridge project has been scaled back to approximately 119 miles of pipe."
Swaner added that on July 27, Northwest Pipeline filed supplemental information with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) indicating that about 34 miles of planned pipeline route had been removed from the project -- including portions in Klickitat, Skamania, and Clark counties. Further, all of the previously proposed pipeline extensions in Lewis County have been eliminated from the project.
"The majority of the route has not been changed and will follow the existing right of way," Swaner explained. "The only place where it will deviate is in a small segment in Skamania County. With a reduced route, we have reduced the amount of pipe needed, including the amount needed through the Major Creek. This means it will not be necessary to cross the east and west forks of the Major Creek -- instead, the new line will tie in to the existing 26-inch diameter pipeline on the side of the East Fork of Major Creek."
The reconfigured Blue Bridge project is now expected to consist of 119.2 miles of 30-inch diameter pipeline loop along the Columbia River Gorge in Benton, Klickitat, and Skamania counties; and installation of 15,015 horsepower of additional compression at two existing compressor stations near Plymouth, in Benton County, and Washougal (Clark County).
Dee Robertson, one of the leaders of CABB, said the group's members are pleased with the alterations to the pipeline plan.
"Williams/Northwest Pipeline Co. has changed its plans, and does not intend to construct a new natural gas pipeline through the Snowden area at this time," Robertson said.
"The core group of Concerned About Blue Bridge want to thank all of you who have helped with your calls, letters, and attendance at our meetings."
"Apparently, Williams will be utilizing their existing pipeline from east of the Klickitat River through Klickitat County, and possibly as far west as the west side of the Wind River," added CABB member Brenda Lexa. "This of course is great news for those affected by the deviation from the existing easement."
Robertson also pointed out that Charles Brown, a FERC representative, has canceled a planned public meeting on Blue Bridge Pipeline Project that had been tentatively scheduled for the White Salmon area because he was notified by Williams that they no longer plan to run the pipeline through the White Salmon area.
Klickitat County Commissioner Rex Johnston said he was pleased that Williams/Northwest Pipeline officials heeded the input from county officials regarding the project.
"We wrote to them several times and went to the meetings, encouraging them to stick to the existing easement," Johnston said. "We had to work very hard to try to influence them. They listened to us, and changed it."
Robertson noted that the new filing from Williams indicates a significant reduction in the scope of the company's plans.
"On the FERC Web site, there is a large overview map that seems to show that the Snowden area is no longer affected," he said. "The new Williams filing with FERC indicates they are scaling back to 119 miles of new pipeline `due to changes in market conditions.' If true, this would seem to imply that if `market conditions' improve in the future, they might decide to pursue the full, originally planned 153-mile route -- meaning they might be knocking on our doors again."
Robertson said an attorney has recommended that landowners who received written notification from Williams that the pipeline will no longer go through their property should save those documents.
"They might be helpful should Williams decide to change the route again under this current application to FERC," he explained.