BLM clears gas pipeline construction

April 25, 2002|By AARON CLAVERIE

Staff Writer

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management will allow Portland, Ore.-based North Baja Pipeline to bury a natural gas pipeline on east Imperial County land on a route snaking from Ehrenberg, Ariz. through Blythe to the border.

The 80-mile U.S. stretch of pipeline will connect a huge El Paso-to-Los Angeles pipeline with an under-construction Mexicali-to-Tijuana pipeline. Natural gas transported by the pipeline will fuel power plants in Mexicali and Tijuana.

The BLM on Tuesday made public its decision to authorize construction on Imperial County land. Construction in Arizona and Riverside County started last week.


North Baja spokeswoman Kathy Russeth said, "We've been clearing some right of way by the river, mobilizing equipment and moving our way south."

Asked for the latest construction update, Russeth said a giant drill bored a 54-inch hole 50 feet underneath the Colorado River Wednesday. Workers will run a 36-inch pipeline through the hole this weekend. Sometime next week the drill will be transported south to the All-American Canal so a hole can be bored underneath it.

The BLM's action approving construction on Imperial County land was expected after the State Lands Commission and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission signed off on the project earlier this year.

Russeth said, "(The BLM) would have only been able to fight this if there had not been acceptable mitigation measures."

She said all environmental impacts associated with construction of the pipeline will be addressed by more than 70 monitors paid by North Baja.

Imperial County officials don't agree. County Air Pollution Control Senior Manager Brad Poiriez said of the BLM's action, "Everyone knew this was coming but we were still holding out hope. This was not a good sign for us."

Poiriez, county officials, Rep. Bob Filner, D-Chula Vista, and environmentalists are worried pollution from the Mexicali power plants fueled by the pipeline's natural gas will damage the Imperial Valley's air quality.

The county and a coalition of Imperial Valley cities banded together to sue the State Lands Commission because it did not take the potential for air pollution into consideration when it approved the pipeline.

Recently, the commission tried to settle the lawsuit but Poiriez said the offer was rejected by the county. The county wanted to see all power plants in Mexicali install best available emissions controls before allowing construction of the North Baja Pipeline. The lands commission has said it has no jurisdiction over Mexican power companies.

Meanwhile, off-roaders and environmentalists are upset about the BLM allowing the pipeline to be buried under public lands.

According to the BLM's recent press release, "About 48 miles of the 80-mile 30- and 36-inch diameter pipeline and some of the related facilities will be located on federal lands managed by the BLM, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or the Bureau of Reclamation, all agencies of the U.S. Department of Interior.

"The approved right of way is about 50 feet wide and covers a total of about 300 acres. The right of way grant is for a period of 30 years and is subject to renewal. At three points the approved pipeline will be located outside of a designated utility corridor on BLM public lands."

That decision has riled environmentalists who claim construction of the pipeline will affect the habitat of desert tortoises and jeopardize sacred archeological sites near the right of way.

Russeth said around 33 percent of the people employed by North Baja during construction will be charged with making sure as little as possible happens to the tortoise habitats or the sacred sites. She said the rules governing pipeline construction are "really stringent."

Construction of the pipeline is favored by Gov. Gray Davis and President George Bush.

The two leaders have both said the country and California needs more pipelines and power plants to help produce energy.

Power produced by the plants connected to the under-construction Mexican pipeline will send electricity to San Diego, Los Angeles, Mexicali and Tijuana. None of the electricity produced by the plants using the natural gas will be used by Imperial County residents.

Poiriez said the only possible way construction could be held up is if a Superior Court judge decided to hear the county's case against the lands commission.

"We've exhausted all our administrative possibilities," he said.

>> Staff Writer Aaron Claverie can be reached at 337-3419 or

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