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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Pipeline future up for Spokane City Council vote

The Spokane City Council will be asked to approve a new deal Monday for a petroleum pipeline that, for several members, has raised safety questions.

The Yellowstone Pipeline has run through parts of the city of Spokane for decades, but the agreement authorizing its existence here expired in 2004.

After more than a decade of setbacks and negotiations, the City Council will be asked to consider a new franchise agreement that some members believe still does not go far enough to protect residents and the city.

Safety of the pipeline is at the core of the debate ahead of Monday’s vote, according to Council President Breean Beggs.

Key issues include whether the $100 million liability insurance policy would be enough to actually pay for the cleanup in the wake of an explosion or leak, and whether the city can negotiate a higher amount.

As an attorney, Beggs represented the family of a victim of the 1999 Olympic Pipeline explosion in Bellingham. He believes $100 million may be inadequate in the event of a disaster, which cost Bellingham far more.

“Staff is working hard to address (concerns), but there are still a couple big unanswered questions that may delay a vote,” Beggs told The Spokesman-Review this week.

Council members have also sought to mitigate the risk the pipeline poses to the city’s water supply and the Spokane Valley-Rathdrum Prairie Aquifer.

The proposed agreement with Yellowstone Pipeline Co. covers the next 25 years and includes annual payments to the city of $25,000, an increase from the negligible $200 annual payment the pipeline company paid in the past under the prior agreement.

The Yellowstone Pipeline Co. has also agreed to pay the city $75,000 to fund a vulnerability assessment that would be conducted by the city’s water department. A separate safety audit conducted by the Southwest Research Institute found the pipeline is in compliance with federal regulations.

The pipeline meanders through relatively small sections of the city, running south through Hillyard, crossing beneath the Spokane River near Felts Field, then running below the city’s southern border before cutting back through the city in the West Plains.

But despite its short pass through the city, the pipeline travels within 50 feet of the city’s Parkwater well site near the Upriver Dam in northeast Spokane, which is used to pump drinking water into city homes and businesses.

The pipeline’s majority owner, Phillips 66, has defended the agreement and its safety protocols. In a statement to The Spokesman-Review last month, the company noted it provides 24/7 monitoring of the pipeline.

“Phillips 66 places the highest priority on safety and operational excellence,” Phillips 66 spokesman Rich Johnson said. “We have multiple safety and integrity management programs in place to ensure the safety and reliability of the pipeline and to protect the community and environment.”

The buried pipeline stretches 725 miles from the oil refineries in Billings, to Spokane delivering petroleum products.

The City Council’s leverage in negotiations is somewhat limited by federal law, which prevents the city from banning the pipeline outright.

The pipeline is regulated by the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, while safety standards and inspections are enforced by the state Pipeline Safety Commission.

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