ST. GEORGE — A proposal to build an underground 6,600-foot high-pressure gas line through a part of the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve was tabled Tuesday by the Washington County Habitat Conservation Plan Advisory Committee.
Dominion Energy proposed a 12-inch pipeline that would run across 1.26 miles of the desert reserve. It would come with a temporary 75-foot wide right of way along the pipeline route then a permanent 30-foot right of way for maintenance.
The pipeline would run 6 miles east from Dominion Energy’s facility near Bluff Street and Red Cliffs Parkway and connect with an existing pipeline running along 3050 East.
The Red Cliffs Desert Reserve segment of the pipeline would run from Red Hills Parkway east toward a spot just north of Rocky Mountain Recycling.
Due to complications of trying to run the pipeline along parts of Red Cliffs Parkway, the city of St. George recommended that Dominion run the pipeline through a segment of city-owned property that happens to be located within the desert reserve.
“It really comes down to how the city wants to steer us,” Darren Shepherd, a spokesman for Dominion Energy, told St. George News Wednesday. “We’ll go with whatever route they’d like.”
The pipeline is considered a critical piece of energy infrastructure for the area as it will help meet increased demands triggered by ongoing growth as well as provide fuel for electricity provided to St. George residents by the city’s Energy Services Department, Shepherd said.
While Dominion Energy representatives said a route through the desert reserve and its protected Mojave tortoise habitat was a better option than Red Cliffs Parkway and other alternatives they had considered, HCP committee members appeared skeptical.
“The thought of having a second, large swath cut through the reserve is unpalatable to me,” committee member Chris Hart said.
Dominion Energy’s proposal was originally brought before the HCP’s technical committee during its Oct. 10 meeting where it was met with opposition.
Among the technical committee’s objections was the concern that the area disturbed by the temporary right of way – which would include a temporary road – would not be sufficiently restored. The committee also worried that they wouldn’t be able to locate all of the desert tortoises that would need to be removed from the affected area.
An objection that was shared by the advisory committee and carried the day was a question of whether the committee even had the authority to approve such a project under the HCP’s “utility development protocols.”
During the October meeting, Dominion Energy had also asked for a temporary 100-foot right of way, which it has since reduced to 75 feet.
Joe Fox, Dominion Energy’s lead engineer on the proposed project, said Tuesday that they couldn’t go any shorter due to safety concerns as room was needed for heavy equipment, supplies and vehicles running in and out of the area during construction.
The estimated size of the area within the Red Cliff’s Reserve that would be disturbed was also originally around 15 acres. The 25 percent reduction in the right of way access brought that down to 11 acres.
Alternative routes not as friendly or feasible
When questioned about running the pipeline along the rest of Red Hills Parkway or including it in the utilities that would run alongside the northern corridor, Fox said those alternatives weren’t safe or feasible.
Dominion Energy’s Brett Brown said company officials had considered going along Red Cliffs Parkway and avoiding the desert reserve altogether, but St. George officials asked them to consider going through the reserve in order to avoid potentially hazardous traffic impacts to Red Hills Parkway.
The intersection of Red Hills Parkway and 1000 East was seen as problematic as it is among the busiest intersections in the county.
“We were really looking at the safety option of it,” said Cameron Cutler, the city’s public works director.
Other challenges of running the pipeline along Red Cliffs Parkway include cramming it into spots where numerous underground utility lines already exist. That would mean having to bury the pipe deeper underground and pose a challenge to maintenance.
Issues surrounding the northern corridor related to the uncertainly of the project’s timeline and final route adoption. The terrain the proposed route passes through also poses extra challenges for pipeline placement.
Dominion Energy officials said they’d hoped to begin work on the pipeline route at the start of December with construction carrying through to mid-February, which is considered the inactive season for the desert tortoise.
Question of authority
Cutler said the city believes the HCP’s utility development protocols allowed for the installation of new utility lines through the desert reserve provided they went through an approval process.
Larry Crist, an HCP committee member representing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said he believed what Dominion Energy was asking for fell outside of the protocols allowed under the current HCP.
In order to establish a sense of clarity about the rules, Chris Blake, chairman of the HCP advisory committee, called for any pending approval of the pipeline project to be tabled so the committee could review the HCP protocol in more detail.
The committee unanimously agreed.
While putting a pipeline through open land would be preferable to a area heavy with traffic and existing utility lines, Shepherd said Dominion Energy will continue to work with city and county officials on where the pipeline will ultimately rest.
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