BUTTE, Mont. - NorthWestern Energy, provider of electricity and natural gas serving customers in Montana, South Dakota, and Nebraska, plans to build a 7-mile natural gas transmission loop to provide additional capacity to customers in the Flathead Valley. Construction is scheduled to begin next summer with the line placed in service in time for the 2004 winter heating season.

The new 12-inch pipeline would be installed adjacent to an existing 8-inch natural gas transmission line, which has reached its capacity due to population growth in the Kalispell and Flathead Valley areas. The 8-inch line, built in 1962, will remain in operation.

The project area is located south of U.S. Highway 2 near Marias Pass and False Summit and includes National Forest System lands and private lands. The company is seeking an extension of the existing special use permit to install three miles of pipeline on the Rocky Mountain Ranger District of the Lewis and Clark National Forest and 0.6 miles of pipeline on the Hungry Horse Range District of the Flathead National Forest. According to NorthWestern Energy, the pipeline is not related to other natural gas exploration or development in the area.

"If all goes as planned, we would begin construction on July 1, 2004, and be finished by the first of September," said Jay Waterman, director of gas transmission and storage for the utility. "However, the actual construction timetable could be longer in the event of fire restrictions or unforeseen delays."

NorthWestern Energy plans to use the existing permitted right-of-way clearing to minimize construction right-of-way clearing for the new line. A temporary 45-foot wide working right-of-way width will be needed to install the new line in an assembly line type of installation, with a 30-foot maintenance right-of-way after construction. The company will implement erosion control and noxious weed prevention measures and comply with all local, state, and federal regulations.

"This line will enable us to continue providing reliable natural gas service to customers in northwest Montana," said Waterman. "We believe this pipeline loop is the most economical, efficient, and environmentally sensitive way to add capacity to the Flathead Valley."

Publication date: 03/08/2004