Despite appeals by a citizens group and Bountiful City, the Forest Service has given another blessing to what would be the state's largest natural gas pipeline.
On Tuesday, Regional Forester Stan Tixier upheld an earlier decision to amend the Wasatch-Cache National Forest plan to allow an interstate pipeline to pass through 51/2 miles of forest property above Bountiful.The ruling clears the way for the Bureau of Land Management to issue all necessary right-of-way grants to Kern River Gas Transmission Co., which has already begun construction on access roads in the desert west of St. George.
Tixier's ruling disappointed opponents to the 900-mile-long, 36-inch-wide pipeline, which would carry natural gas from southwestern Wyoming to Southern California, where the gas would be used to produce steam used in extracting stubborn oil from fields near Bakersfield.
"(The decision) doesn't surprise me, you know, with the way this has been handled so corruptly through all levels," said Bountiful City Councilwoman Renee Coon, who has led an anti-pipeline citizens group in Davis County.
Last October, Susan Giannettino, Wasatch-Cache supervisor, decided to amend the forest plan to allow both Kern River and a competing company, WyCal Pipeline Co., to build two pipelines through the forest lands, which include Mueller Park. (WyCal has since dropped out of the race.) Giannettino's decision was appealed by Bountiful City and the Bountiful Hills Residents and Concerned Citizens Association, which argued national environmental policy was violated in the process.
But in his ruling Tuesday, Tixier said he found Giannettino's decision to be "consistent with the . . . National Environmental Protection Act . . . and all applicable Forest Service policies."
Among other things, Tixier noted that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the lead agency in the pipeline proposal, determined a public need exists for the pipeline. "The Forest Service accepts this action as the federal determination of need," Tixier said.
Tixier's ruling can only be overturned by the chief of the Department of Agriculture, an action that isn't likely.
Though the ruling was a setback, Coon said she and other pipeline opponents still hope the project can be routed away from the Wasatch Front, where opponents believe it would endanger safety, watersheds and aesthetics.
The citizens group continues to push a suit against the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver.
And opposition to the pipeline continues to grow in Nevada, where many property owners are resisting efforts by Kern River to condemn their property for the pipeline. Their efforts may be futile, though, in light of an order by a Las Vegas court that ruled against Clark County, which was resisting condemnation of some of its property.
The Nevada opponents, however, have persuaded Rep. James Bilbray, D-Nevada, to introduce legislation that would stop the pipeline pending another review, this time by the BLM.
If the pipeline is not stopped, Coon vowed she would fight to ensure the pipeline company's disruption of the community be kept to a minimum.
"There's things we can do to make it difficult for them at least. It's not over."