By Sarah Pridgeon
The County Commissioners are expected to approve a new policy on the installation and maintenance of commercial pipelines at their next regular meeting. The policy lays out in detail the procedure through which a developer must obtain the necessary permits to build near county roads.
“Crook County did not have any policy or procedure to deal with commercial pipelines, other than a permit for ranchers to put a water line across a county road,” explains County Attorney Joe Baron, who was instrumental in drawing up the new policy.
The document is intended as a guideline for best use of the county’s limited resources and is necessary because the county does not have the funds to maintain the approximately 1000 miles of roads within its borders. Landowners and permit-seekers do not have an absolute right to install commercial pipelines near county rights-of-way and the county meanwhile has the right to regulate the use of its roads.
The guidelines provide “an administrative process for commercial pipeline developers to obtain various county permits in a timely manner and mitigate the impact to the health and safety of the residents, taxpayers and landowners of Crook County, while allowing for development and increasing and diversifying the tax base,” according to the draft policy.
Currently in draft form, the policy dictates that the first step in obtaining a crossing permit for a pipeline will now be to meet with the Road and Bridge and Growth and Development offices to establish a familiarity with county staff, requirements and resources, having provided all relevant information beforehand.
Permittees will be required to view the route and any crossings, access locations, transportation routes and other impacts with the Road and Bridge Superintendent before preparing agreements. If necessary, the County Attorney will be present to provide information on the legal status of the road and the Sheriff will give input on traffic, speed and other potential issues.
According to the policy, the county prefers that pipelines not be located within right-of-ways to avoid additional maintenance, potential destruction and interference with the public’s use of the road. They should not be installed at intersections or near existing or planned improvements to the road or adjoining land.
The Road and Bridge Superintendent will then recommend approval at a public hearing with the County Commissioners. The purpose of the hearing will be to determine whether the pipeline developer has complied with policy, taken the public’s health and safety into consideration and mitigated actual and reasonably potential concerns.
The general public will be invited to make comments, with preference given to county residents, taxpayers and landowners. Commenters are encouraged to have a spokesperson, not be repetitive, threatening or argumentative, and to have read the proposal before making comments.
The commissioners will then either approve the permits, agreements, financial guarantees and other requirements or deny the installation of a commercial pipeline.
Among the requirements that the county could impose, a pipeline’s developer and any subsequent owner will be responsible for its upkeep and maintenance and it must be removed if abandoned unless written permission is granted by the county. The developer must also enter into a road maintenance and repair agreement that includes dust mitigation before and after construction.
Pipeline developers must prepare a fire management plan for the County Fire Warden and comply with burn restrictions. They must also pay an independent third party, approved the Crook County Natural Resource District, to test water quality for landowners’ water wells, springs, ponds, reservoirs, running streams and other water sources within a mile of the pipeline route.
CCNRD will also need to be notified if the route will be crossing a stream, creek or river, while leaks must be reported to Homeland Security within 48 hours and shut-off valves must be placed before and after all streams and rivers and “anywhere else where geologically unstable conditions exist.”
The policy was drawn up with the help of county departments and boards.
“All were asked,” says Baron. “The Board of Commissioners, Road and Bridge, Growth and Development and CCNRD have contributed to date.”
The County Commissioners will discuss and possibly sign the policy at the July regular meeting. It is currently scheduled on the agenda for 10 a.m. on July 3.