Senate OKs maintenance on pipeline in Glacier National Park


by Tristan Scott

WHITEFISH – The U.S. Senate on Wednesday gave approval to a bill that allows the National Park Service to authorize maintenance on an aging natural gas pipeline that runs through a portion of Glacier National Park.

The bill, carried through the Senate by Democratic Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester, allows maintenance work on a 3 1/2-mile section of the pipeline, which was built in 1962 and runs through Glacier Park lands.

The pipeline was constructed by Montana Power Co. and is currently owned and maintained by NorthWestern Energy, but the National Park Service does not have authority to issue a permit to the company for upgrades and maintenance. The permit was renewed through 1990, but the Park Service later determined it did not have the authority to grant permits for natural gas lines, and needed legislation clarifying its authority.

The 118-mile pipeline serves about 25,000 people in Kalispell and runs parallel to U.S. Highway 2 along Glacier’s southern boundary.

“This bill cuts through red tape to keep Kalispell homes heated while protecting one of the most beautiful places on Earth,” according to a statement from Tester. “Responsible maintenance of the pipeline will prevent accidents and help keep Glacier National Park the Crown of the Continent.”

Conservation groups, Glacier Park officials and the Park Service backed the legislation after receiving assurances from NorthWestern – including changes to the proposed bill – that the scope of the historic easement would not be expanded without an in-depth assessment of its environmental impacts.

Michael Jamison, director of the National Parks Conservation Association’s Glacier Field Office, said the nonprofit group worked with the power company, Rep. Denny Rehberg, who sponsored the bill in the U.S. House of Representatives, and Sens. Baucus and Tester to ensure it would not be used to sidestep environmental safeguards.

Recently retired Glacier National Park Superintendent Chas Cartwright said he was satisfied with the legislation after the pipeline’s right-of-way was scaled back to the same corridor width it has been for decades. Cartwright said a wider easement corridor could have allowed “twinning,” or expanding the pipeline, which is nearing capacity, without an environmental impact statement as required by NEPA.

“We are going to confine impacts to the area, as we have since they installed it,” Cartwright said.

In a statement released by Baucus’ office, the senior senator said: “This is a common sense bill to make sure Kalispell can continue getting the natural gas it needs the same way it has for the past 50 years. It’s a no brainer.”