Tribal leaders have voted to end use of the Flathead Indian Reservation as the route for a pipeline that moves fuel to Spokane from refineries in Billings, Mont.
If it stands, the vote by the council for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes will force major changes in the way Yellowstone Pipe Line Co. transports fuel to North Idaho and Eastern Washington, which get more than 40 percent of their gasoline and other petroleum products from Montana.
The pipeline also provides all of the aviation fuel for Fairchild Air Force Base.
Denial of the pipeline company’s request for renewal of its right of way was based on past environmental problems, said Mickey Pablo, the Salish and Kootenai chairman.
Tribal members were dissatisfied with the pipeline company’s response to a 10,000-gallon leak in January 1993. The contamination destroyed some plants that the Salish and Kootenai traditionally used for medicinal purposes and as food.
“The comfort factor is not there,” Pablo said. “That’s the best way to put it.”
Unless the Tribal Council reconsiders, its vote means that as of April 21, Missoula will become the terminus for the pipeline.
The pipeline’s owners - Conoco, Exxon and Union Oil Co. - will have to find a new way to deliver the 1.3 million gallons of fuel that daily flow through the reservation to Washington.
Bob Beall, a Chevron dealer and Exxon distributor in Spokane, predicted legal action would be taken to prevent interruption of pipeline deliveries.
A second pipeline that moves fuel to Spokane from the Tri-Cities does not have enough additional capacity to make up the shortfall, he said.
Spokane, Beall added, is the center of distribution for much of the rest of Eastern Washington and North Idaho.
Pablo said the Tribal Council voted not to give Yellowstone an extension of its lease, nor a long-term renewal of the right of way. There had been a proposal to allow an extension while a pipeline environmental study was being prepared.
Conoco spokesman John Bennitt said it is particularly disappointing that the council’s vote occurred when the environmental study is incomplete.
“As a shipper, Conoco’s concerns are that alternatives to the pipeline are not as environmentally sound and are costly,” Bennitt said.
David Vanderpool, who negotiated with the Tribal Council for Yellowstone Pipe Line, said earlier this week the company has spent more than $1 million to upgrade the pipeline in the last year in response to concerns about its integrity.