Uinta Express Pipeline open house leaves unanswered questions | ParkRecord.com

Uinta Express Pipeline open house leaves unanswered questions

Derek Siddoway, The Park Record
Bob Wheaton, a landowner in the Woodland area, right, and Lisa Yoder, who is Summit County's sustainability coordinator, study maps showing a broad proposed route of a Tesoro pipeline with Scot Cheney during an event on Tuesday. (Christopher Reeves/Park Record)

Tesoro held an open house Tuesday evening in Kamas about a proposed pipeline route to move crude oil from the Uinta Basin through Summit County to Salt Lake area refineries.

The meeting, at South Summit Middle School, was intended to provide information to the public, but many in attendance seemed to leave with more questions than answers.

The pipeline, known as the Uinta Express, would run through a stretch of Summit County from Woodland to Henefer and then to the Morgan County line. But an exact path has yet to be developed, and the uncertainty is raising concerns with property owners.

"We are all sharing information [among ourselves] as we are being contacted," attendee Mark Brietenbach said."Part of that is because of the ambiguity. If people come tonight, they aren’t getting the detail they would like. Our only way of getting information is to talk internally."

Brietenbach is the president of a cabin owners’ association outside of Woodland. The cabins sit along a strip of the Provo River where an existing Chevron pipeline corridor crosses the river and the land where the cabins are located.

According to Brietenbach, the surrounding area features numerous groves of aspen and spruce. Marshes and meadows are also a prominent moose-calving habitat. The cabin owners hope the Uinta Express pipeline will use the existing Chevron corridor in order to preserve the environment, as well as their cabins.

Owners up and down the length of the strip of land have been contacted by Tesoro. Now they’re left to speculate among themselves how the dice — or in this case, the trench — will fall.

"The cabin owners together have to try and figure out what is happening," he said. "At a public meeting like this, [the route] should have been laid out in greater detail. Cabin owners are coming and still don’t know if they are affected or not. It would be nice if it was narrowed down and people could know if they should be concerned."

Although the exact path is not yet known, the broader route appears to be finalized. Michael Gebhardt, vice president of strategy and business development for Tesoro, said on Tuesday evening that the paperwork for the "northern route" has already been filed with the federal government.

Gebhardt insists that the planned route was not only the most efficient — paralleling existing lines owned by companies like Chevron and Questar where feasible — but the safest for the environment as well.

"At the end of the day, we felt like this was the route with the best fit to all of those different criteria," he said. "We are looking to find a mutually beneficial solution that everybody can be happy about."

But Al Davis, a landowner in the Wanship area whose property the pipeline will cross, said residents have been left in the dark. He’s also concerned about a lack of dialogue between Tesoro and landowners.

"I really don’t understand where this process is at," Davis said. "This [was] advertised as public comment. They gave you punch and cookies and let people look at propaganda posters. There was no public input. No one was asked ‘Do you like this idea, or do you not like this idea?’"

Gebhardt and other Tesoro officials said time for comments was provided at the open house and online at http://www.unitaexpresspipeline.com. But Davis said it will take a unified voice for landowners to be heard.

"If there are enough voices against this thing, passionate enough to go to bat for it, then we might have some influence," he said.

Davis acknowledged that the pipeline will likely be built regardless, but he hopes that conversations with Tesoro can influence the route. Although he will be affected, the Wanship resident is more concerned about the overall environmental impact of the project, especially on the Weber River.

"Why would anybody in their right mind run a pipeline right next to a river?" he said. "I’m not buying that a decrease of [250 trucks] on the highway is worth running a pipeline through a riparian valley."

The 12-inch line would be buried three feet underground and would cross or parallel numerous creeks and waterways, including the Provo River and Weber River. Despite the potential hazard of a spill, Gebhardt wants to assure residents that all necessary precautions have been taken to prevent environmental harm.

According to the Tesoro representative, the pipeline will be monitored all the time and be inspected at three-week intervals for leaks and damage. Gebhardt said landowner concerns will be handled at the individual level.

"We feel like the pipeline is a safe and efficient way to move Utah’s crude to Utah’s refineries," he said. "We plan to approach each landowner to have those conversations and hear those concerns."

Until then, it would seem that landowners can do nothing but wait. Or, as Davis hopes, organize themselves.

"Unless people who are in opposition to the current plan get together and have a consensus voice, we’re going to get trampled," he said.