The Canadian pipeline company that wants to build a pipeline across the nation’s mid-section has given Nebraska officials a report identifying alternative routes around the state’s Sandhills region, with a preferred route identified.
The report lays out preferred “corridors” for a newly routed pipe. TransCanada’s spokesman said the new preferred route is about 20 miles longer than the original route, which traversed the Sandhills. He said the route does not cross the Sandhills, as defined by a 10-year-old map used by the state Department of Environmental Quality. A pipeline opposition group, Bold Nebraska, disagrees, saying the new route still crosses Sandhills.
“All we can do is go by the definition of the Sandhills that the DEQ has given,” said TransCanada spokesman Shawn Howard. “The Nebraska Sandhills were defined 10 years before this even became an issue.”
Jane Kleeb, head of Bold Nebraska, says the new path still crosses the Sandhills.
“I am literally standing with a landowner whose land this pipeline still crosses in the Sandhills,” she said. “So unless I am standing on a mirage, it still crosses the Sandhills. If TransCanada cared about our state, landowners, water and Sandhills they would have proposed a safer, more responsible route instead of trying to play games with landowners.”
Howard said the route respects the area identified by the DEQ as Sandhills.
“Unfortunately, Bold Nebraska has chosen not to look at a map,” he said.
Howard said the new route is not expected to add costs, since the company won’t have to add concrete and casing to the pipeline in areas of the Sandhills where the water table was high.
The report lays out several configurations of a new route, but recommends a 174-mile-long route that crosses 65 bodies of water, 1.76 miles of “ecologically unusually sensitive” areas and one mile of a wild and scenic river, according to the report. It also crosses the Ogallala aquifer, which lies below most of Nebraska and all but the first 10 miles of the pipeline study area.
TransCanada’s plans to build a 1,700-mile-long pipeline to carry crude oil from Alberta, Canada, to refineries on the Gulf Coast were thwarted largely by landowners in Nebraska who worried about the potential for leaks in the ecologically fragile Sandhills region. State lawmakers reached an agreement with the company to reroute the pipeline around the Sandhills. TransCanada gave the report on alternatives and a preferred path to state officials today.
The first segment of the preferred route crosses primarily ranch land in Keya Paha, Rock and Holt counties as well as the Keya Paha and Niobrara rivers – maximizing the original Keystone XL route to avoid affecting additional landowners. The path continues southeast through portions of Holt and Antelope counties, crossing 69 pivot-irrigated tracks, cropland and four miles of rangeland. The last 70-mile segment crosses mostly farmland in Antelope, Boone and Nance counties and connects with the original route in Merrick County. It would cross the Elk Horn River, the Cowboy Trail and the Loup River.
The preferred path would cross the habitat of the American burying beetle, piping plovers, whooping cranes and other species.
The boundaries of the study area were influenced by the fact that TransCanada sought to start and end at the originally proposed points, starting near Mills and ending near Merrick. Among TransCanada’s goals was to minimize the length of the new route by using the originally proposed route “to the greatest extent practicable,” to minimize the number of landowners affected by the pipeline, the report said.
The report said shortening the pipeline was a “major goal,” since the shorter the pipeline, the less the impact on the environment and landowners. Planners also tried to stick to the original route as much as possible since it’s already been reviewed by multiple agencies, the report said.
The report says the Sandhills, cities, towns and federal or state-protected land were avoided “to the extent practicable.” The planners did aerial and ground reconnaissance of the corridors in December.
The Cowboy Trail – a former rail line that was converted into a recreational trail — was considered as a potential route but discarded because it crosses the Sandhills, among other reasons.
The director of the state Department of Environmental Quality, Mike Linder, said the state review process can now occur, following the passage of a bill the governor signed yesterday.
“Public participation will be important throughout this review, and NDEQ will make every effort to provide information and invite comment throughout the process,” Linder said. “There will be a number of ways to review and comment through live meetings, internet comments or through the mail.”
Linder said his agency will soon announce a series of public information meetings in the proposed route area. The report and related information is now online and people can submit comments and review background materials there.
Reported by Deena Winter, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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