Yellowstone Pipe Line Co. is seeking U.S. Forest Service permission to build a new pipeline through the Clark Fork Valley and along the Ninemile Divide.
An estimated $30 million project, the route would restore continuous pipeline service from refineries in Billings to distributors in Spokane. The service was cut off in April 1995 when the pipeline lost its right of way across the Flathead Indian Reservation because of environmental problems.
The new pipeline proposed Friday would cover about 74 miles from Missoula west along the Clark Fork Valley to Plains to connect with the existing pipeline. The route is one not previously proposed or studied. But like other suggested reroutes, it immediately proved controversial.
“Oil flows downhill, and that means a high likelihood, given the predictability of spills, that there will be oil flowing into Ninemile Creek or into the Clark Fork River or the Missoula aquifer,” said Chris Siegler, a spokesman for the Valleys Preservation Council, which represents landowners in the Ninemile, Sixmile and Frenchtown areas.
The council also opposed a previous proposal to build the new line through the Ninemile Valley, a possibility listed on the company’s new request to the Forest Service as a “secondary route.”
Also listed as “secondary” is a route along the Clark Fork River from Missoula to St. Regis, then off the valley floor and north to a point near Weeksville.
The company “will now force its way through a different corridor, satisfying its profit motivation while putting lots of people’s quality of life and drinking water at risk,” Siegler said. “We have to remember what they have with the power of eminent domain: the right to intimidate rather than negotiate.”
The Yellowstone pipeline delivers 30,000 barrels per day to the Spokane market, nearly one-third of the petroleum refined each day in Billings. When the line was continuous, it cost about 2.5 cents per gallon to deliver fuel from Billings to Spokane, said David Vanderpool, manager of what Yellowstone Pipe Line is calling the Bitterroot Range project.
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