BOZEMAN — A floodplain permit to place a natural gas pipeline under the Gallatin River in Montana was approved as part of a larger project to build a vacation rental destination on an island in Gallatin Gateway, county officials said.
The Gallatin County Planning Department issued the permit to NorthWestern Energy on Friday, granting permission to place a 2-inch (5-centimeter) pipeline up to 15 feet (5 meters) below the riverbed about 225 feet (70 meters) downstream of the Mill Street bridge, The Bozeman Daily Chronicle reported Tuesday.
Company officials said the Riverbend Glamping Resort project would use about half the natural gas capacity of the pipeline, while the remaining will be made available to other utility customers.
NorthWestern said it would bore the pipeline deep enough to prevent floatation, collapse or lateral movement and would complete construction in the winter and early spring to avoid flooding impacts. It also said natural gas is unlikely to enter the river because it has a low solubility, meaning if it leaked it would escape into the air.
“The main concern with natural gas is explosion potential,” the company said. “In elevated concentrations it can escape quickly from water, causing an explosive hazard in poorly ventilated or confined areas, none of which are present at the proposed bore site, and is why the pipeline is not encased in conduit and odorant is added.”
County Floodplain Administrator Sean O’Callaghan said he approved the application because it complied with regulations.
“The project will be located below ground and is being installed in such a way that there will be no disturbance to the bed or banks of the River, and minimal disturbance to upland locations, meaning that increased risk of flooding due to the project is expected to be negligible,” O’Callaghan said.
Hundreds of people raised concerns about the pipeline last year when the NorthWestern applied for the permit. Peggy Lehmann, a landowner near the proposed resort, argued against the project and is working with Protect the Gallatin River in opposing the permits.
“The risk of damage to the river and ecosystem caused by boring and/or pipeline construction is being put ahead of community concerns at the expense of serving one person’s desire to put a business in the floodplain,” Lehmann said.
She argued the pipeline should not have been approved because it would affect aquatic wildlife, the river, the habitat and public recreation. She also said there could be significant consequences if the pipeline broke.
The decision to issue the permit can be appealed to the county commission until April 4. Lehmann said Protect the Gallatin River does not have plans to appeal.
NorthWestern spokesperson Jo Dee Black said no additional permits are needed to install the pipeline. But the installation is contingent upon a floodplain permit for the Riverben Glamping Resort, which is currently under review. That permit is also contingent upon approval of a floodplain permit for the resort, which would include trailers, tiny homes and wagons for guests.
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