Firm wants pipeline across historic Utah ranch

SALT LAKE CITY — The owners of a historic eastern Utah ranch that holds Native American artifacts and rock art are fighting an energy company’s demand to build a pipeline through their property.

Denver-based Bill Barrett Corp. is threatening to use eminent domain to claim a three-quarter-mile easement through the 160-acre Lower Ranch in Nine Mile Canyon, an archaeological treasure trove that Steve Hansen and five other ranch co-owners want to protect.

Digging the 50-foot-wide trench to install the pipeline would disrupt the irrigation system for Lower Ranch, Hansen told The Associated Press today. Building the pipeline through the ranch is “unnecessary” because other routes are available that cross public lands, he said.

But months of study by multiple engineering firms showed that other routes would actually cause more environmental damage because there is not existing infrastructure, said Jim Felton, spokesman for Bill Barrett. Additionally, the impact on Lower Ranch would be minimal, with the pipe buried and the surface repaired, he said.

“To minimize the impact using an existing corridor is preferable to disturbing several miles of pristine backcountry,” Felton said.

Public lands would still be accessed for the pipeline, however, meaning the Bureau of Land Management would have to approve the plan, he said.

The pipeline will be needed by March 2012 for natural gas, Bill Barrett senior vice president Hunt Walker said in an April 15 letter to Hansen, so it needs to be constructed this summer. Eminent domain could be used, although Walker said the company is willing to “discuss in good faith” the least damaging options.

Utah law permits companies to seize private property for a gas and oil pipeline.

“We are happy to discuss various routes across your property, compensation, mitigation to limit impacts and the opportunity to perform projects to enhance the wildlife, archaeological, vegetation and riparian resources of your property,” Walker said.

The natural gas operation about 130 miles east of Salt Lake City was approved after an agreement between Bill Barrett Corp. and environmental groups wanting to protect Nine Mile Canyon. Hansen was part of that agreement but said a pipeline through the canyon was never proposed.

“It denied the public and us, as property owners, the opportunity to comment on the idea of the pipeline,” he said. “Through public comment, the pipeline could have been halted.”


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