SEMCO gas pipeline to cross wetlands

Utility officials expect little enviro impact

Tim Lubbers, SEMCO’s director of business development

MARQUETTE — SEMCO Energy Gas Co.’s proposed 42-mile natural gas pipeline will traverse about 10.6 miles of wetland and cross dozens of major and minor streams in Marquette County, but company officials expect the roughly $135 million project won’t have a “great deal of impact on the environment.”

SEMCO in December filed a request with the Michigan Public Service Commission seeking authority to construct and operate the pipeline, which would connect the Great Lakes Gas Transmission system near Arnold with Northern Natural Gas’ system to the north in Marquette.

The pipeline, being called the Marquette Connector Pipeline, would consist of two segments. A 20-inch diameter line would run 36.2 miles from Arnold to Negaunee Township, near the M-35 and Marquette County Road 480 intersection, connecting the two interstate transmission systems.

Farther east along County Road 480, that pipeline would also be connected to a 6.4-mile, 10-inch line running to SEMCO’s existing distribution system in the city of Marquette and provide a second connection point to Northern Natural Gas’ transmission, near Division Street and Pioneer Road.

Four separate routes were investigated during an environmental assessment, but SEMCO officials said they were not viable due to the inability to use existing corridors, substantial rock excavation and significant increases in land and forest clearing, as well as wetland disturbance, according to documents filed with the MPSC.

About 28 percent of the larger pipeline’s proposed route is mapped over wetland areas, with about 13 percent of the smaller 6.4-mile line crossing similar terrain.

In total, the Marquette Connector Pipeline is expected to have 65 minor and 27 major stream crossings, including the Escanaba and Carp rivers and Morgan Creek.

The environmental assessment, included in the company’s request to the MPSC, also states no threatened or endangered species have been identified during site visits and evaluations conducted late last year.

However, the report indicates portions of the project area contain habitat potentially suitable during the spring, summer and fall seasons for the northern long-eared bat, which was added to the federal list of threatened species in April 2015 following population declines due to white-nose syndrome, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Special rules prohibit some activities that could harm the species or its habitat, such as clearing trees during certain times of year.

At the Feb. 16 U.P. Energy Summit held in Marquette, Tim Lubbers, SEMCO’s director of business development, said much of the pipeline will use existing utility corridors and road rights-of-way to lessen the environmental impact of the project.

“We will have to clear some brush to accommodate construction, and among the many things that’s important is clearing will be coordinated around nesting bats and that’s part of our process with the regulatory agencies that govern those types of things,” he said. “We don’t anticipate at this time any permanently filled wetlands and we anticipate using directional boring where possible for stream crossings to minimize any environmental impact that we would have along the route.”

The environmental assessment states 326 acres of forested land may be cleared during construction, though the corridor is expected to be reseeded as soon as possible.

Permits for the project will need to be secured, including through Marquette County and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, which regulates wetland areas.

Ryan McCone, senior environmental quality analyst with the DEQ, said employees in the department’s Water Resources Division have had preliminary discussions about the project with SEMCO’s consultant.

“These discussions were largely informal because project plans remained under development,” he said. “We did, however, discuss the potential for project impacts to regulated waterways and wetlands, as well as situations under which DEQ permitting would be necessary.”

McCone said the DEQ hasn’t received any permit application yet, but he expected one would be submitted if the project is pursued.

“If the DEQ receives a permit application for this project, it will be subject to review and processing by DEQ WRD staff in accordance with relevant portions of the state’s Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act,” he explained.

Lubbers said the project is in its very early stages and that the company was in the process of completing a “centerline survey” to show precisely where the pipeline will be situated along the route.

“That’s when we engage property owners to make sure … we have the right spot and we’re proceeding as everyone would expect we would,” he said. “We’re doing wetland delineation for permitting, and our estimate is it will cross about 220 parcels with about 122 landowners.”

The pipeline will cut through several municipalities, including Marquette Township, which filed a statement with the MPSC expressing concern with the proposed route and potential impacts on its existing well field south of Grove Street, as well as parcels designated for future expansion of its water system.

Marquette Township Manager Randy Girard said the township has determined alternate routes around the areas, but hasn’t heard a response from SEMCO.

The pipeline will also cross two other well head protection areas, grazing the western edge of one in Sands Township near the 553 Mobile Estates, and through the southwestern portion of Forsyth Township’s well head protection area No. 2, near Gwinn.

Utility officials said the cost to construct the pipeline will be distributed across all of SEMCO’s roughly 300,000 customers, with increases to an average residential bill projected at about $4 a month.

Lubbers said SEMCO wants to build the pipeline to improve reliability of natural gas service in the central Upper Peninsula and allow for the potential to provide for future development.

“Marquette is at the very end of a very long 2,000-mile pipeline stretching all the way from Texas, and it was built in the ’60s,” he said. “A single failure on that (Northern Natural Gas) line could result in a long-lasting and potentially dangerous outage for nearly 35,000 customers, and that’s one of the things we’re concerned about.”

The MPSC may issue its decision on the project proposal in late December, and, if approved, construction could begin in late 2018. Lubbers said SEMCO is targeting an in-service date of 2020.

For more information, visit michigan.gov/mpsc and search for “U-18202” under the E-Dockets tab.