Environmental impact of new gas line minimal, federal report confirms

2014-04-01T00:00:00Z 2014-04-01T00:19:31Z Environmental impact of new gas line minimal, federal report confirmsBy Jamar Younger Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

A proposed 60-mile pipeline carrying natural gas from the Tucson area to Sasabe could be one step closer to becoming a reality.

A Federal Energy Regulatory Commission environmental impact statement for the proposed Kinder Morgan Sierrita Pipeline mirrors the results of a draft statement released last year, which found construction and operation of the pipeline would result in limited adverse environmental impact.

The pipeline has drawn opposition from Pima County officials and ranchers in Altar Valley.

The pipeline would threaten the habitat of the endangered Pima pineapple cactus, but four other federally listed threatened or endangered species are not likely to be adversely affected, according to the report.

Those species include jaguars and designated jaguar critical habitat, the lesser long nosed bat, the Chiricahua leopard frog and masked bobwhite quail.

Other species that are proposed or candidates to be federally listed, such as the Sonoran Desert tortoise, the northern Mexican garter snake and the ferruginous pygmy owl, are also not likely to be affected.

However, the commission will confer with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in case one of those species become listed.

The report was released Friday, about a week after County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry issued a memo saying Pima County will receive less tax revenue from the pipeline than expected.

The county filed a letter of opposition to the project Friday with the commission.

The county plans to intervene if the commission gives a final order to approve the project, which could happen in June.

Pima County officials originally thought the county would receive about $120,000 from the state-shared sales tax, but revised projections show the county could gain only $7,334.

Most of the tax revenues from the project, estimated to be about $12.4 million, would go to the state, with the Regional Transportation Authority also receiving a portion.

The pipeline could cost local taxpayers about $16 million, including costs for increased patrols for the Pima County Sheriff’s Department, access road maintenance, open space management and other costs to help mitigate potential environmental damage.

The county is guaranteed to receive only $2.3 million for flood plain use permits.

The estimated cost also includes money for the county medical examiner and public fiduciary to respond to and investigate migrant deaths along the pipeline, which are projected to increase, according to county officials.

Ranchers and county officials are concerned that the path created by the 36-inch pipeline could create a new “highway” for migrant smuggling.

In the report, the commission said it cannot be determined whether the project will lead to an increase in deaths and illegal activities, and the county’s cost estimates are “speculative.”

A Kinder Morgan spokesman declined to comment on the report, saying the “EIS speaks for itself.”

Although the commission will require mitigation measures to reduce environmental impacts, ranchers in the area are still not satisfied.

“I think it’s shameful,” said Melissa Owen, who owns a ranch about four miles north of the Mexican border in Sasabe.

Owen and her husband have undertaken their own conservation projects throughout the years, which include rainwater harvesting, installing dozens of rock erosion control structures and maintaining a pond on her ranch.

She said the pipeline, which would cut through her property if it’s approved, will destroy their conservation work.

“We have people who live down here who care about this valley,” she said.

Huckelberry said the county is also worried about the pipeline’s impact on the land, especially the vegetation that will be removed to make way for the project.

“The biggest problem is we can never restore the land once it’s been damaged,” he said. “It even further fragments the land.”

Contact reporter Jamar Younger at jyounger@azstarnet.com or 573-4242. On Twitter @JamarYounger

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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