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Paynesville Press - September 20, 2006

Proposed crude oil pipeline discussed
at Meeker County hearing

By Michael Jacobson

Concerns about a proposed 295-mile crude oil pipeline - which would run through both Stearns and Meeker counties - raised at a public hearing in Litchfield on Monday, Sept. 11, included the pipeline crossing private property at an angle (requiring easements across properties), low reimbursement, and the necessity of a new pipeline.

According to the permit application, submitted by the Min Pipeline mapnesota Pipeline Company (a subsidiary of the Koch Pipeline Company) in January to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission, the MinnCan Project would consist of a 24-inch pipeline running for 295 miles from Clearbrook, Minn., to the Flint Hills Resources refinery in Rosemount, Minn. At Clearbrook, the proposed pipeline would connect with another pipeline that brings crude oil to Minnesota from Canada.

From the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission, the Minnesota Pipeline Company needs to get a Certificate of Need and to get its proposed route approved for the MinnCan Project. As part of this process, a series of public meetings has been held in the 15 counties affected by the proposed pipeline.

Last week's meeting was the public hearing for Meeker County; two meetings were held in Melrose for the Stearns County hearings in late August.

Through Stearns County, the proposed pipeline would cross Interstate 94 by Albany, would head due south right past Farming, would cross the Sauk River between St. Martin and Richmond, would cross Highway 23 between Roscoe and Richmond, would veer east to miss Pirz Lake, would run between Rice Lake and Big Lake, and would head south past Eden Valley.

In Meeker County, it would continue south of Eden Valley, running parallel to Highway 22, would cross Highway 22 approximately four miles south of Eden Valley, and would run southeast towards Forest City, where it would cross the North Fork of the Crow River. Then it would continue to head southeast towards Dassel.

Because the proposed pipeline shifts in Meeker County, from going south through Stearns County to going east towards the Twin Cities, it ends up going diagonally through many property parcels in Meeker County, a point of contention for landowners at the 90-minute public hearing in Litchfield last week.

Keith Langmo of Litchfield said he supported the pipeline as needed infrastructure for the state but called the compensation "ludicrous." Taking the property forever - restricting building on it and even tree planting - for $2 or $3 per foot is not fair, he said. "When you think about giving up property rights for my life, my children's life, it's totally unfair," he said.

George Ruhland of Eden Valley agreed that the compensation offered was "ridiculous." No farmer would sell property at an angle like the easements wanted by the company for this project, he explained. "I'd like to see some of you sell property like that," he said.

In addition to the crossing of private lands at an angle, many Meeker County property owners were upset that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was unwilling to allow the pipeline on its property (where no buildings, and likely no trees, will ever be needed).

Company representatives talked with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service about using their property and were told no, they said at the hearing. That is "disappointing," said Greg Langmo of Litchfield.

On ag lands, the pipeline would be covered by 4.5 feet of soil, requiring a trench at least 6.5 feet deep. In other areas, the pipeline only needs to be 3.0 feet deep, requiring a trench only 5.0 feet deep.

Sen. Steve Dille (R-Dassel) - whose represents Meeker County - said he'd like to see the compensation increased if at all possible and he called the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's refusal to allow their property to be used by the pipeline as the most outrageous thing he heard at the public hearing.

John Ryan of Dassel said lots of property owners wished they had the clout to tell the pipeline company "no," too, like the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, whose refusal to allow the pipeline on its property "goes to show that there are environmental concerns," he said.

Environmental concerns - and the possibility of oil spills - were raised by opponents of the project, including several members of the Minnesota Public Interest Resource Group (MPIRG).

A critic of the proposed pipeline wondered if the pipeline was avoiding the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service properties because otherwise an Environmental Impact Statement would be needed. He said that the company should first replace its existing pipeline instead of building a new one on a different route, pointing to a 3,000 barrel spill near Little Falls this summer as evidence of the condition of the current 50-year-old pipeline.

For the first 119 miles, the proposed pipeline would follow existing right of way owned by the Minnesota Pipeline Company. But in Morrison County, the company proposes using a new route - or "greenfield" route - for 176 miles.

Instead of reaching the Flint Hills refinery using the northern route of the present pipeline through Benton, Sherburne, Anoka, and Washington counties, the proposed pipeline route would circle the Twin Cities on the east and south through Morrison, Stearns, Meeker, Wright, McLeod, Carver, and Scott counties.

The new route is needed, according to the permit application, "to avoid environmentally sensitive areas and developed areas near the Twin Cities metropolitan area."

The company would need to add 35 feet to the right of way for the first 112 miles of the new pipeline, requiring 476 acres; would need to acquire a 50-foot right of way for the new route, requiring 1,104 acres of land, totalling 1,580 acres of land for the project. During construction, the company also would need 50-foot construction easements, totalling a temporary use of 1,515 acres. Of the 295-mile route, according to the permit, 211 miles (72 percent) is agricultural land; 46 miles (16 percent) are forest; 34 miles (12 percent) are wetlands; two miles are open lands; and one mile is developed land. It crosses private land for 93 percent of its route.

The pipeline would cross 64 perennial streams and 119 intermittent streams (including the Sauk River between St. Martin and Richmond and the Crow River by Forest City) and would run through 14 watersheds (including the North Fork of the Crow River watershed and the Sauk River watershed).

Others at the public hearing questioned the need for the oil pipeline - with alternative energies, fuel efficiencies, etc., growing in popularity. "This is truly a Certificate of Want," said Nicholas Keener of MPIRG. "What the Minnesota Pipeline Company wants. What MinnCan wants. Not what our public officials want. Not what the public wants."

The legislature, countered Dille in support of the project, recently considered a bill setting a goal for the state to reach 20 percent renewable fuels by 2020. Even if this were changed to 30 percent (which he favors) and achieved, it would mean the state would still need to get 70 percent of its energy by fossil fuels in 15 years.

If built, the pipeline could move 60,000 to 165,000 barrels of crude oil per day. By adding seven additional pumping stations along the route, the maximum throughput for the pipeline would be 350,000 barrels of oil per day.

The cost of the project is estimated at $300 million for right of way acquisition and construction. If approved, it would be constructed in 2007 and hopefully would be ready for service in 2008.

Written comments about the MinnCan Project can still be submitted until Friday, Sept. 22, to: Judge Beverly Heydinger, Office of Administrative Hearings, 100 Washington Square, Suite 1700, Minneapolis, MN 55401-2138.

In addition to the Certificate of Need and routing approval from the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission, the MinnCan project would need nearly 20 other permits, including county and watershed district permits as required.

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