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Feds OK gas pipeline through Metro Detroit

Jim Lynch
The Detroit News

A controversial natural gas pipeline that would run through southeast Michigan has cleared a major hurdle by getting approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

The $4.2 billion Rover Pipeline would transfer 3.25 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day from Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania through Ohio and into Michigan. Energy Transfer, the Texas-based company behind the pipeline project, has touted it as providing a “reliable, long-term supply of low-cost natural gas” to Michigan and Ohio.

Energy Transfer also is responsible for the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Many landowner opponents along the proposed Midwest pipeline route have cited concerns over safety and possible damage to the environment. Several of those homeowners wound up in court with Rover Pipeline LLC after refusing to allow the company’s surveyors on to their property.

On Thursday, FERC officials gave the project its stamp of approval.

“We find that the benefits that the Rover Pipeline Project will provide to the market outweigh any adverse effects on existing shippers, other pipelines and their captive customers, and on landowners and surrounding communities,” the federal panel wrote in its decision. “...We find that the public convenience and necessity requires approval of Rover’s proposal...”

Energy Transfer spokeswoman Vicki Granado said the company is on schedule to complete its pipeline this year.

“Currently, we have said that we anticipate we will meet the targeted in-service goals of July 2017 for Phase I and November 2017 for Phase II,” she wrote in an email.

On Monday, the Sierra Club Michigan chapter’s Nancy Shiffler issued a statement opposing FERC’s regulatory approval.

“FERC’s decision to rush this dirty and dangerous project is nothing short of reckless...,” Shiffler said. “Rover pipeline crosses major scenic rivers which feed Lake Erie and passes through the east side of Pinckney Recreation Area. Crossing Lenawee, Washtenaw and Livingston counties in Michigan and 18 Ohio counties, Rover will result in the destruction of hundreds of acres of upland forest affecting migratory birds, the Indiana bat and significant plant life as well as damaging farmlands.

“In our view this fight is not over.”

At one point, the Rover pipeline was slated to run through Oakland, Macomb, Shiawassee, St. Clair, Genesee and Lapeer counties. It has since been scaled back to affect Lenawee, Washtenaw and Livingston counties.

In a 119-page decision issued Thursday, FERC officials sought to allay concerns raised on a host of issues:

■Wetlands: “...impacts on wetland resources will be effectively minimized or mitigated to the extent practicable.”

■Homeowners’ insurance and property rates: “Even with the existing thousands of miles of interstate natural gas pipelines present within the United States, staff has not identified any instances where these pipelines have resulted in changes in coverage.”

■Overall environmental effect: “...we agree... that the projects, if constructed and operated as described in the final Environmental Impact Statement, are environmentally acceptable actions.”

Several pipelines already pass through Dexter Township, so the arrival of a new one won’t be greeted with overwhelming protest, Supervisor Harley Rider said Monday. But residents and local officials will be watching how Energy Transfer lives up to its promises.

“We’ve had some concerns about the way they’ve gone about this whole thing” Rider said. “Rather than coming to the community ahead of time and saying ‘This is what we’re proposing,’ they just started to lay the plans for it. And then when people found out about it, particularly those whose property would be affected, people got up in arms about it.”

Rider said a community like Dexter Township is limited in what it can do with pipeline projects.

“Unfortunately, the feds and the state overrule townships in this case,” he said. “We don’t have much we can do about it. Even zoning isn’t an option for us.”

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