Council: Say ‘no’ to Laurel gas plant

Reader’s Viewpoint
Thursday, November 11, 2021

Council President, Emelie Eaton, and the Laurel City Council have paused the proposal for a Northwestern Energy gas plant on the banks of the Yellowstone and they have asked for public input. I am extremely appreciative of this opportunity.

For my input, I will be discussing the impact on the residents, the general public and the land from HWY 212, where Theil Road runs East, to the confluence of the Yellowstone River and the Clark’s Fork, where two wild and free rivers come together. Please understand there are approximately 30 private residences in this area, a fantastic 400 plus acre public land open year round as well as a portion of the Nez Perce National Historic Trail.

Most of us recall 2011 when ExxonMobil’s Silvertip pipeline spewed an estimated 1,500 barrels of crude oil into the Yellowstone River. Many do not recall that just several years earlier ExxonMobil had a ruptured line under the Yellowstone River just below the bridge on HWY 212. Water and other gases and chemicals erupted into the air out of the river like Old Faithful. These facts make it clear that the Yellowstone River is already at risk for environmental catastrophe. The Laurel City Council should not pave the way for another pipeline under the Yellowstone simply to increase their budget.

Beyond the protection of the historic Yellowstone River, pollution of the air and damage to the environment in this area should not be encouraged by the Council. According to the Laurel Outlook October 28, 2021, the Laurel area does not currently meet federal health based standards for sulfur dioxide in the air. If the City Council supports this gas plant proposal, they are in fact clustering together large industrial polluters, which leads to much greater risk of higher toxic emissions. Indeed, it could generate what is called a toxic “hotspot.” The gas plant proposal consists of eighteen internal combustion engines. Each engine would require a 77 foot tall exhaust stack. As my kids used to say, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure this out. Increased air pollution is a given.

Within this area is Sundance Lodge Recreation Area, 400 acres plus, of Public Land. It is a part of a National System of Public Lands, under the U.S. Department of the Interiors, Bureau of Land Management. It is currently jointly managed by Fish, Wildlife and Parks. In general it runs along the Clark’s Fork, beginning near HWY 212 down to the confluence with the Yellowstone River. Within the last few years it has been enlarged to include a stretch of the Yellowstone river bank, a stone’s throw from the proposed gas plant site, to the confluence. This park is used by hundreds of people annually. Trails are semi groomed, park benches are in place as well as picnic tables throughout the area and a public restroom is available. Pollution from this proposed gas plant would besiege this public park area as well as the residential area. This recreation area is also frequented by Bald Eagles, elegant Blue Herons and majestic Sandhill Cranes, which utilize both rivers. Numerous other birds abound. Birdwatchers, photography buffs and children out on school field trips are just a smattering of who I encounter when I frequently walk the 3.6 mile perimeter of the Sundance Lodge Recreation Area.

My question to the City Council is simple. How can clustering industrial polluters by granting NWE’s gas plant proposal, possibly benefit this open and free 400 acre public area, the people or the birds or the habitat?

My last input to the Council is to ask them to reflect on honoring the Nez Perce National Historic Trail. In 1958 the Yellowstone Historical Society along with the National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, established the Nez Perce National Historic Park 7 miles North of Laurel, a few miles North of the Veteran’s Cemetery. It commemorates the “Canyon Creek Battle.” The view of the canyon from this park is startling. One can imagine how the canyon had the backs of the Nez Perce.

Throughout Sundance Recreation Area, there are photos and historic writings posted regarding the trek of Chief Joseph and his people down the Clark’s Fork, and noting their historic crossing of the Yellowstone River hoping to travel North to Canada and freedom. To be clear the NWE proposed gas plant with eighteen 77 foot tall stacks would be more than highly visible from their crossing site. Hopefully, the City Council will not support defiling this historic site which some consider sacred, by endorsing NWE gas plant proposal.

The fundamental question to the City Council is, do you support the above described area as a viable and worthy portion of the community or do you see it as a ‘sacrifice zone,’ will you undercut all of this to increase your budget? We all know Yellowstone County is expanding West, we see a new hotel going up, a new mini mall in place, a new gym and grocery store on the horizon. There are other tax sources forthcoming. You, as elected leaders, asked for our input. That is responsible. Now will you read our emails, listen to our comments and discuss in depth the response you have received? Say NO the NWE gas plant proposal.

Carol Blades

Laurel, Mont.

The Laurel Outlook


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