Clark Fork project opponents satisfied with public involvement

Yellowstone Pipe Line Co. will begin - and possibly complete - work Saturday to dig a trench across the Clark Fork River near Turah and to bury a new 150-foot section of pipe.

"We'll start at first light, and try to get in and out of the river as quickly as possible," YPL spokesman Larry Springer said Friday. "We will try to do it all in one day."

Questioned by environmentalists when it was proposed, the trenching was approved earlier this year by the Montana Department of Environmental Quality, but only between April 1 and 15 or between Sept. 7 and Oct. 7 - and only at flows of less than 1,500 cubic feet per second - to minimize impacts on fish.

Springer said the trench will vary in depth from 5 feet to 12 feet, and will cross the Clark Fork just below the Turah Bridge. The existing pipe was exposed by erosion over the past 45 years - since YPL built a petroleum pipeline from Billings to Moses Lake, Wash.

Once the in-river work is finished, YPL crews will turn their attention to sections of pipe on either side and will eventually replace about 1,500 feet of the line. When they are ready to connect the new section to the existing pipeline, the flow of petroleum will be stopped.

"We'll use nitrogen to purge the line, then we'll make the cuts and reconnect," Springer said. The old pipe will remain in the river bed but will be filled with concrete slurry.

Springer said a variety of state and local regulators intend to check on the progress of work throughout the day, but that he expects "things will be fairly anticlimactic."

The Clark Fork Coalition, a Missoula environmental group, filed suit last fall when the state initially approved the project without writing an environmental assessment or scheduling a public hearing. The state did both in return for the coalition dropping its challenge.

Tracy Stone-Manning, the group's executive director, said she would still prefer that YPL wait until September to do the work, but that she was satisfied with the public involvement the lawsuit won.

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