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Aghast over pipe

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Federal regulators have given their environmental stamp of approval to a proposed natural gas pipeline that critics say would damage woods, wetlands and water bodies across Michigan.

The environmental impact statement, issued April 2 by the staff of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), will be used by the commission when deciding whether Vector Pipeline can lay a pipeline from Chicago through Michigan and 15 miles into Ontario. Vector is a limited partnership between Canada’s Enbridge Inc. and Detroit-based MCN Energy Group.

It has not been determined when FERC will make its final decision.

Vector Pipeline spokesperson David Henderson says the project calls for the construction of 344 miles of pipeline, to include 59 miles of existing pipeline in Oakland, Macomb and St. Clair counties. Counties facing new construction include Livingston, Jackson and Ingham. Oakland and St. Clair counties would also see some new construction.

"Any time you bring a bulldozer into sensitive areas you’ll be compacting soil, ripping up vegetation, ripping out trees and bird nests," says Robert Duda, a member of the Sierra Club’s southeast Michigan group, which opposes the project.

Duda also contends that Michigan’s population has stabilized over the past 30 years and doesn’t need more natural gas.

"They should be promoting conservation of natural gas and other resources instead of promoting increased usage," he says.

Henderson says the demand for natural gas has increased nationwide.

In October 1998, FERC recommended approval of the project pending a final environment impact assessment. On April 2, FERC’s staff issued its final environmental assessment, saying the project would have a "limited adverse environmental impact and would be an environmentally acceptable action."

Environmentalists are concerned about the long-range impact on the approximately 370 acres of wetland and nearly 3,000 acres of farmland that will be disrupted during construction.

If federal regulators give the project final approval, residents won’t have a choice whether the pipeline runs across their property because Vector would be granted eminent domain.

FERC spokesperson Tamara Young-Allen says many landowners including farmers along the proposed pipeline route expressed frustration that they couldn’t stop the pipeline from going through their property. Residents in Oakland County’s Milford Township have long opposed Vector’s plan to put a natural gas compressor station there in order to move gas in the pipeline. In that township, where MichCon already has a compressor station, residents fear another compressor would increase air pollution or cause an explosion.

Young-Allen says the public has had opportunities to comment at various stages of the process since Vector filled its initial application in December 1997.

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