Chevron apologizes to Pinebrook residents
June 9, 2007
After what Chevron called a "big miscommunication," representatives from the pipeline company met with Pinebrook residents Rhonda and Lewis Farrell at their home on Thursday to clarify plans they have for clearing the right-of-way along a pipeline in the Pinebrook subdivision. When public relations manager Dan Johnson arrived, he brought a bouquet of white roses.
"I want you to know that these are white for a reason," he said, handing the peace offering to Rhonda Farrell, who found contractors axing trees on her property Monday morning minutes after posting a notice dated May 7. The notice said that for safety reasons, Chevron would clear its right-of-way in Weber and Davis counties over the next 60 days.
"Obviously this included Summit County," Farrell wrote in an e-mail to neighbors inviting them to attend the meeting.
Johnson apologized for not providing proper notice, adding that Chevron was unaware of plans to clear trees at Pinebrook on Monday after a miscommunication occurred with Western Pipe, their contractor of 15 years.
"We’ve never had a problem like this with Western Pipe before, so I don’t know where the breakdown occurred. I would have been horrified to wake up and find people in my backyard cutting my trees."
Western Pipe could not be reached for comment.
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The Farrells hoped the meeting would allow Chevron to clarify its intentions in clearing the right-of-way while fostering better communication between the oil company and Pinebrook residents.
Johnson immediately put to rest concerns that Chevron intended to clear hundreds of miles between Utah and Colorado, saying inspections were at a step-by-step process and the company intended to address them one step at a time.
"Right now, we’re concerned with taking care of this area the best way we can," he said. "I’m hopeful we can work together with safety as a priority."
Directing Manager for the Rocky Mountain Region, Brad Rosewood, and facility inspector Dan Bristol also attended the meeting.
Rosewood said the company must still clear trees and brush interfering with visibility of the pipeline, meaning that disruption of some residents’ property may be unavoidable. But he added that Chevron is willing to meet individually with homeowners to discuss which trees can stay and what Chevron can do to restore the area. After walking through the Farrells’ backyard he confirmed that several of the trees cut down on Monday did not interfere with the right-of-way.
Rosewood promised better communication with homeowners and said Chevron would help reseed disturbed areas.
"We won’t leave the property until you’re satisfied," he said.
"Within reason," Johnson quickly clarified. "We’ll look at it case by case to reach an agreement based on what we had to remove."
Farrell pointed out that her easement allows landscaping along the pipeline, as long as the plants’ roots do not exceed six inches, a concession Johnson did not refute.
the end of the meeting, both parties seemed satisfied with the compromises reached.
Michael Rasmuson, the only other homeowner present at the meeting, is an employee of Northwest Pipeline Company in Salt Lake. He said he was impressed with Chevron’s efforts, as long as they follow through with compromises and consistently maintain the area.
"Our company would have had a similar response," he said in a phone interview after the meeting. "I actually think they’re going above and beyond by meeting with individual homeowners. I don’t blame them at all for wanting to clear the right-of-way."
He did, however, express confusion over the timing of the clearance.
"What makes now so special? Why couldn’t they do this 10, 20 years ago?" he wondered. "They can’t stir us up every 40 years then ignore it. If it’s such a safety concern, they should better maintain it."
Rhonda Farrell posed a similar question in the meeting. "If this is such a public danger, why no concern before?" she asked.
Johnson responded that the company’s size, given limited resources, prevented attention before now.
"We have 700 miles of pipe to oversee, so we have a risk-based system to address the bad parts first. This area isn’t at the top or the bottom of the list. It’s right in the middle, and now we’re getting around to addressing important safety measures here."
Chevron’s biggest concern is interference with the protective coating around the steel pipes, which if corroded can cause dangerous leaks. Tree roots can cause erosion of the quarter-inch coating in as little as a year, and an overgrowth of vegetation can make spills difficult to detect.
The Farrells say they appreciate the safety threat, but hope the company will remain sensitive to the environment of Pinebrook.
"This is also a huge drainage area," Rhonda Farrell said. "Take out the trees, and there’s a huge erosion problem."
Not every concern was resolved in the one-hour meeting, but both sides took steps to reach a livable compromise. Pinebrook residents may have to concede some trees and bushes, and Chevron has pledged to leave as much as possible untouched.
"As long as they follow through with this, we’re satisfied," Farrell said.