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Archive for Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Oil pipeline could go through preserve

Wichita Audubon Society hopes to avoid route through nature center

April 17, 2007

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— The proposed route of an oil pipeline in Kansas may be changed, after complaints that the current plan has the line going through the Chaplin Nature Center.

The company that wants to build a line more than 200 miles from Washington County to the Cowley County border in Kansas said it was unaware of the 220-acre preserve when it made its original proposal.

The line in Kansas is part of the TransCanada Keystone Pipeline Project, which would run 1,070 miles from western Canada to Oklahoma at an estimated cost of $2.1 billion.

Because of concerns about the preserve, the company is reviewing alternatives to the route, said Shela Shapiro, a spokeswoman for TransCanada.

Survey stakes on property north and south of Chaplin align with the center's property. The Chaplin Nature Center, which includes forest, floodplain, native grasses and limestone bluffs, is home to more than 200 species of birds, bobcats, coyotes, raccoons, armadillos and deer.

Bald eagles winter on the refuge, and great crested flycatchers and pileated woodpeckers nest there in the spring.

"Out of all the millions of acres of land, they had to hit our 220 acres," said Patty Marlett, president of the Wichita Audubon Society, which owns the Chaplin Nature Center.

If TransCanada gets federal approval for the project, "if they wanted to go through, they could," Marlett said. "But we would take them to court and fight for all we are worth."

TransCanada spokeswoman Shapiro said the preliminary route was based on the best "desktop" information, including factors such as commercial market access, high population areas and economic viability.

"The company was not aware of Chaplin's existence when those maps were made," Shapiro said.

TransCanada wants to bury the 30-inch oil pipeline 4 feet deep with a path 110 feet wide during construction and a 50-foot swatch for maintenance after the pipeline is built. Ninety percent of the pipeline would be on agricultural land.

Shapiro said the company does not want to use eminent domain to build the project, although it could. The government can use eminent domain to seize and buy land needed for the public good.

The proposal would affect the nesting of forest birds and give predators an advantage, said the center's naturalist, Shawn Silliman.

"We don't know what's going on," Silliman said. "We are worried if we wait too long to do something, there will be nothing we can do. At the same time, we don't want to overreact."

The Keystone project already has been rerouted in other states, including around some tribal lands in Oklahoma, according to Elizabeth Orlando, international affairs officer for the State Department.

Federal regulatory approval of the route is expected in November; a presidential permit is expected in early 2008. Keystone is expected to file an application with the Kansas Corporation Commission this summer. Negotiations with landowners could start later this year.

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