Gas company files suit to put pipeline across open space
Natural gas company Kinder Morgan is suing Pitkin County to put an underground pipeline on open space in Brush Creek.The pipeline would be the second utility project to slice through the public land on its way to supporting the Base Village development in Snowmass Village. Pitkin County Open Space and Trails Director Dale Will has said the pipeline passes through about $10 million worth of public land. “My frustration is that we’ve invested a lot of money in the Brush Creek corridor to protect open space, and we find ourselves administrating a utility corridor,” Will said.The lawsuit was filed because Pitkin County cannot give or sign away public lands without a court decision or ballot initiative. “In this case,” said Tim Knapp, an attorney representing Kinder Morgan, “in order to move forward and provide natural gas to customers in the heating season of 2006, the only way we were able to achieve expediency was to file a condemnation.”Will said the lawsuit will likely move through the courts with ease. However, the valuation of the land and the actual size of the easement required to lay the underground pipeline will probably be contentious, he said. “The only way for Kinder Morgan to get what they want is to take it from us,” Will said.The proposed route of the pipeline stretches five and a half miles from an existing facility at the Brush Creek intercept lot off Highway 82 through a parcel of recently purchased open space known as Cozy Point South. It would continue through private property in the valley (much of which is under conservation easements), close to the creek and through the Seven Star open space and a couple of conservation easements the county negotiated in the past few years.Kinder Morgan is seeking a permanent easement 35 feet wide and a temporary work area 20 feet wide.The project is following closely on the heels of a high-voltage underground power line Holy Cross Energy laid in the same area, also to support Base Village. “[Base Village] was approved without full consideration of off-site impacts,” Will said. “This is just the latest in the series of impacts you’ll have building something that big in a little valley.”The power line and gas line cut through public lands where the county has been planning to build a bike trail. “We were ready to start building that trail two years ago,” Will said. “We’re working with Kinder Morgan, trying to accommodate their demand for an easement to put a pipeline on county open space and get their project completed so we can get the Brush Creek bike trail completed this year. Heaven knows, communications and fiber optics may be next.”Will said the open space program probably wouldn’t agree to the utility company’s requests without a court order.”This is a growing problem around the state,” Will said. “Utilities are looking for places to put infrastructure. They see open space as an easier place to put it. They’re not going through anyone’s front yard.”Joel Stonington’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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