[Federal Register: July 16, 2008 (Volume 73, Number 137)]
[Page 40843-40845]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Forest Service

Kalispell Line Valve 5 to 6 Loop Natural Gas Pipeline Project, 
Flathead National Forest, Flathead County, MT

AGENCY: Forest Service, USDA.

ACTION: Notice: Intent to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement.


SUMMARY: The Forest Service will prepare an Environmental Impact 
Statement (EIS) for a proposal by NorthWestern Energy (NWE) to 
construct and operate a loop natural gas pipeline on the Hungry Horse 
Ranger District of the Flathead National Forest. The new loop pipeline 
would be installed underground and generally parallel Highway 2 and an 
existing natural gas transmission line currently authorized to NWE 
under a Forest Service special use permit (SUP). NWE proposes to 
construct approximately 12 miles of 12-inch diameter steel pipe from an 
existing natural gas valve station near Marias Pass on the Continental 
Divide westward to another existing valve station near the junction of 
Bear Creek and the Middle Fork Flathead River. The SUP would be amended 
to include the new loop pipeline. The project area is approximately 25 
miles SW of Browning, Montana and approximately 50 highway miles SE of 
Columbia Falls, Montana.

DATES: Substantive comments regarding the proposal and the scope of the 
analysis should be received in writing on or before July 31, 2008. The 
draft EIS (DEIS) is expected to be filed with the Environmental 
Protection Agency and made available for public review in October 2008. 
When the DEIS is available a Notice of Availability (NOA) will be 
published in the Federal Register. The final EIS (FEIS) is expected to 
be published in February 2009.

ADDRESSES: Send written comments to Jimmy DeHerrera, District Ranger. 
The mailing address is Hungry Horse Ranger District, P.O. Box 190340, 
Hungry Horse, Montana 59919. Electronic comments may be e-mailed to 
comments-northern-flathead-hungry-horse-glacier-view@fs.fed.us with 
``Kalispell Line Valve 5 to 6 Loop Natural Gas Pipeline Project'' in 
the subject line and must be submitted in MS Word (*.doc), rich text 
format (*.rtf), or portable document format (*.pdf). Comments received 
in response to this request will be available for public inspection and 
will be released in their entirety if requested, pursuant to the 
Freedom of Information Act.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: David Ondov, Project Manager, Flathead 
National Forest, 650 Wolfack Way, Kalispell, MT 59901, (406) 758-5364.


Purpose and Need for Action

    The purpose and need for this project is to increase capacity and 
supply and to maintain reliable natural gas service to the Kalispell 
and Flathead Valley area of northwestern Montana. The integrity of the 
existing 10-inch diameter pipeline, constructed in 1962, is good, but 
NWE projects that its capacity will be reached within two years due to 
the continuing strong population growth in the Flathead Valley area. 
The existing pipeline is the Flathead Valley's only source of natural 
gas. During the past several years, the demand for natural gas has 
increased in western Montana as a result of steady population and 
economic growth. Kalispell, the largest town to be serviced by the 
proposed pipeline, grew from a population of 11,917 in 1990 to 19,432 
in 2006.

Proposed Action

    The proposed action includes construction and the long-term 
operation and maintenance of approximately 12 miles of 12-inch diameter 
steel pipe from an existing natural gas valve station near Marias Pass 
on the Continental Divide westward to another existing valve station 
near the junction of Bear Creek and the Middle Fork Flathead River. 
Approximately 11 miles of the new pipeline would be on National Forest 
System land and one mile would be on private lands in the central 
portion of the project area. The project area lies within the Hungry 
Horse Ranger District of the Flathead National Forest.
    The new loop pipeline would be installed underground and generally 
parallel the existing natural gas pipeline that is currently authorized 
under a SUP to NWE. NWE would attempt to build the new pipeline as 
close as feasibly and technically possible to the existing line, but 
may have to diverge in some locations due to terrain, BNSF railroad 
tracks, highway right-of-way (ROW), environmental concerns, other 
utilities, engineering needs, or other technical factors. A portion of 
the new pipeline may need to be constructed in an inventoried roadless 
area due to a combination of these factors.
    The authorized ROW for the existing pipeline in this area is 50 
feet wide. The proposed action would require up to an additional 
temporary 50-foot wide working ROW to construct the new pipeline, with 
a final 50-80 foot total long-term operational ROW. The proposed action 
would, wherever possible, utilize the existing cleared, authorized 50 
foot ROW to minimize the amount of new vegetation clearing and to 
combine maintenance access points. Pipeline operations require that the 
ROW remain free of heavy tree cover. Within the ROW, native forbs and 
shrubs would be maintained for the lifespan of the pipeline. Noxious 
weeds would be monitored and abated throughout the lifespan of the 
authorized use. The total new area affected for the 11 miles of ROW on 
National Forest land would be less than approximately 70 acres.
    Underground installation would be conducted to comply with 
Department of Transportation (49 CFR 192.327) and NWE standards. 
Pipeline burial depths would allow for 42 inches of soil cover in 
normal soil, 60 inches at stream crossings, and 48 inches near public 
roads and railroads. Bedrock installations would be covered to a depth 
of 30 inches.
    Areas of temporary disturbance would include temporary use areas 
for equipment and materials staging and construction access routes. 
Some of these would be on private lands. Native grasses and herbaceous 
plants would be restored in all areas where ground

[[Page 40844]]

disturbance or vegetation removal occurs. Revegetation progress would 
be monitored for two growing seasons or until 80% native cover is 
    Two shed-sized structures and three above-ground pipe assemblies 
would be constructed at the valve station at the west end of the 
proposed project area. Federal pipeline inspection rules would require 
long-term motorized and non-motorized maintenance access at selected 
points along the pipeline route.
    Construction of the loop pipeline would take approximately 90 to 
120 days, depending on fire restrictions and other unforeseen delays. 
After construction, NWE would utilize both the new 12-inch diameter 
pipeline and the existing 10-inch diameter pipeline, with the pipelines 
interconnecting at the valve stations to create a ``loop system.'' 
Looping pipelines has been shown to be a cost-effective method for 
increasing system capacity.
    A temporary special use construction permit would be issued to NWE 
following completion of the EIS and a Record of Decision approving the 
pipeline. Following construction planned for summer 2009, the existing 
SUP would be amended to include the new loop pipeline.
    More detailed scoping information and maps can be accessed on the 
Flathead National Forest Internet site at http://frwebgate.access.gpo.gov/cgi-bin/leaving.cgi?from=leavingFR.html&log=linklog&to=http://www.fs.fed.us/r1/flathead/.

Possible Alternatives

    Alternative 1 is the no-action alternative. Alternative 2, the 
proposed action described above, was developed by NWE to respond to the 
purpose and need and may be modified for the draft EIS upon 
consideration of field engineering studies during the summer of 2008. A 
route that does not enter inventoried roadless areas may also be 
included in another alternative. Other viable alternatives may be 
developed by modifying the proposed action to respond to significant 
issues identified during the public involvement and scoping process.

Responsible Official

    The Responsible Official is the Forest Supervisor of the Flathead 
National Forest, 650 Wolfpack Way, Kalispell, Montana 59901. The Forest 
Supervisor will make a decision regarding this proposal considering the 
comments and responses, environmental consequences discussed in the 
final EIS, and applicable laws, regulations, and policies. The decision 
and rationale for the decision will be documented in a Record of 
Decision (ROD).

Nature of Decision To Be Made

    The scope of this project is limited to decisions concerning 
activities related to the construction and operation of a new natural 
gas loop pipeline, as described earlier. The Forest Supervisor will 
decide whether to authorize the construction and long-term operation of 
the new loop pipeline with additional ROW. Related decisions may 
address ancillary activities such as weed control and vegetation 
monitoring on the pipeline ROW, access to the pipeline ROW, etc.
    The Forest Supervisor will make decisions regarding this proposed 
project only for National Forest System lands. Her decision will 
determine whether a construction SUP is issued and the existing permit 
is amended.
    This EIS will tier to the Flathead National Forest Land and 
Resource Management Plan and EIS of January 1986, and its subsequent 
amendments, which provide overall guidance for land management 
activities on the Flathead National Forest.

Scoping Process

    The Forest Service is seeking input concerning comments and 
concerns about this proposal from Federal, State, and local agencies, 
Native American tribes, and other individuals and organizations that 
may be interested in or affected by the proposed action. This input 
will be used to identify issues and develop alternatives during 
preparation of the EIS. Comments should be as specific as possible to 
assist the Forest Service in this manner. In addition to the ongoing 
public participation process, formal opportunities for public 
participation will be provided upon publication of the DEIS.

Preliminary Issues

    Preliminary issues and concerns that will likely be evaluated in 
the EIS include potential effects of the proposed action related to the 
following: Threatened or endangered species such as the grizzly bear, 
lynx, and bull trout; inventoried roadless areas; motorized access; 
noxious weeds; wetlands; scenic qualities; and sensitive plant and 
animal species.

Permits or Licenses Required

    The Forest Supervisor would authorize NWE to construct, maintain, 
and use the new natural gas loop pipeline through the issuance of a 
temporary construction SUP and amendment of the existing SUP.
    NWE may need to obtain additional permits and approvals to 
construct the pipeline. These could include: Section 404 Permit by the 
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; Section 106 National Historic 
Preservation Act Concurrence issued by the State Historical 
Preservation Office; National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System 
General Construction Permit issued by Montana's Department of 
Environmental Quality; Montana Joint Application for Proposed Work in 
Streams, Lakes and Wetlands issued by the Montana Department of Natural 
Resources and Conservation; and a Utility Crossing Permit issued by the 
Montana Department of Transportation. A complete list of required 
permits and authorizations will be included in the EIS.

Comment Requested

    The Forest Service is seeking public and agency comment on the 
proposed action in order to identify major issues to be analyzed in 
depth and assistance in identifying potential alternatives to be 
evaluated. Comments received on this notice, including the names and 
addresses of those who comment, will be considered as part of the 
public record on this proposed action and will be available for public 
inspection. Comments submitted anonymously will be accepted and 
considered; however, those who submit anonymous comments will not have 
standing to appeal the subsequent decision under 36 CFR part 215. 
Additionally, pursuant to 7 CFR 1.27(d), any person may request the 
agency to withhold a submission from the public record by showing how 
the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) permits such confidentiality. 
Persons requesting such confidentiality should be aware that, under the 
FOIA, confidentiality may be granted in only very limited 
circumstances, such as to protect trade secrets. The Forest Service 
will inform the requester of the decision regarding the request for 
confidentiality. Where the request is denied, the agency will return 
the submission and notify the requester that the comments may be 
resubmitted, without names and addresses, within a specified number of 
    The comment period on the DEIS will be 45 days from the date the 
Environmental Protection Agency publishes the notice of availability in 
the Federal Register.
    The Forest Service believes, at this early stage, it is important 
to give reviewers notice of several court rulings related to public 
participation in the environmental review process. First, reviewers of 
DEIS must structure their participation in the environmental review of 
the proposal so that it is meaningful and alerts an agency to the

[[Page 40845]]

reviewer's position and contentions. Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Corp. 
v. NRDC, 435 U.S. 519, 553 (1978). Also, environmental objections that 
could be raised at the DEIS stage but that are not raised until after 
completion of the FEIS may be waived or dismissed by the courts. City 
of Angoon v. Hodel, 803 F2.d 1016, 1022 (9th Circ. 1986) and Wisconsin 
Heritages, Inc v. Harris, 490 F. Supp. 1334, 1338 (E.D. Wis. 1980). 
Because of these court rulings, it is very important that those 
interested in this proposed action participate by the close of the 45 
day comment period so that substantive comments and objections are made 
available to the Forest Service at a time when they can meaningfully 
consider them and respond to them in the FEIS.
    To assist the Forest Service in identifying and considering issues 
and concerns on the proposed action, comments on the DEIS should be as 
specific as possible. It is also helpful if comments refer to specific 
pages or chapters of the DEIS. Comments may also address the adequacy 
of the DEIS or the merits of the alternatives formulated and discussed 
in the statement. Reviewers may wish to refer to the Council on 
Environmental Quality Regulations for implementing the procedural 
provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act at 40 CFR 1503.3 in 
addressing these points.

    Dated: June 27, 2008.
Cathy Barbouletos,
Forest Supervisor--Flathead National Forest.
[FR Doc. E8-15828 Filed 7-15-08; 8:45 am]