Controversial Western Slope pipeline halted
summit daily news
Summit County, CO Colorado
GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” The Bureau of Land Management on Monday issued a cease and desist order blocking any further building of a controversial 25-mile natural gas pipeline through national forest lands in Gunnison, Mesa and Garfield counties.
That’s because a federal official last week found two violations associated with construction of the Bull Mountain pipeline, which led the BLM to issue the cease and desist order to SG Interests, the company that is behind the project.
The first and most important violation was that Rifle-based Wagon Wheel Consulting, the company SG Interests hired to provide environmental consulting for the building of the pipeline, only had one environmental inspector remaining on the project.
A management plan for the pipeline indicated that there would be an environmental manager, along with three environmental inspectors involved in its construction.
“The decrease from a total of four inspection personnel throughout most of the summer to the current total of a single (environmental inspector) and no (environmental manager) makes it very unlikely that environmental protections can be accomplished to the degree required, which represents a substantial departure from the level of inspection indicated when the project was analyzed and the (right of way) granted,” the order stated.
The second violation the federal official found was that SG Interests did not submit required forms to the government, according to the cease and desist order.
Why the environmental inspectors for Wagon Wheel Consulting may have left the project was unclear late Tuesday.
Owners of Wagon Wheel Consulting declined to comment on the matter late Tuesday. An attempt to contact Houston-based SG Interests after business hours Tuesday was not immediately successful.
David Boyd, a spokesman for the BLM, said because SG Interests hired Wagon Wheel Consulting for the environmental consulting, the agency did not know why those inspectors may have left the Bull Mountain pipeline project.
Boyd said BLM and Forest Service representatives met with SG Interests officials on Tuesday. The federal officials agreed to let SG Interests finish additional work, which includes the laying of 3,000 feet of pipe and to backfill where a trench already exists.
The government also let the company complete “390 feet of trench, put pipe in and backfill where they have existing pipe already on-site,” Boyd said.
“That’s because if they leave it undone, it is going to create problems during the winter,” he said. “We want them to finish up, and take the (pipeline) to a good finishing point.”
Boyd also said the company is going to continue reclamation work along the pipeline’s right of way to get the area ready for the winter season.
The cease and desist order will remain in effect until SG Interests submits the required documentation and can find at least one additional, qualified environmental inspector for the project, according to the cease and desist order.
Both the Forest Service and the BLM must be assured that any person brought on to the project possesses the “qualifications and attributes needed to ensure environmental protection for this project.” SG Interests may not use any inspector until it receives written confirmation of their acceptance by the Forest Service and the BLM, the cease and desist letter stated.
Before the beginning of any construction in 2009 following “the winter hiatus,” SGI Interests must assure that an environmental manager and a full complement of inspectors are assigned to the project, the letter said.
Sloan Shoemaker, executive director of the Wilderness Workshop, expressed concern that there is no time left in the year to grow any vegetative cover on disturbed soils where pipeline construction has occurred. That could likely cause massive erosion problems when runoff begins in the spring, he said.
The Bull Mountain pipeline has been the center of controversy this year because it cuts across three roadless areas in the White River National Forest and the Grand Mesa-Uncompahgre-Gunnison National Forests.
Wilderness Workshop and other groups had argued earlier this year that the pipeline created eight miles of roads in what is supposed to be a protected roadless area. They claimed the pipeline’s approval by the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management violated federal law.
After a short bust of legal wrangling that temporarily blocked building of the pipeline, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals handed down an order in June that allowed work on the Bull Mountain pipeline to continue.
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