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Natural gas plant near Laurel takes step forward, despite residents' opposition

 Along the Nez Perce National Historic Trail Yellowstone River at Laurel, Montana.
Roger Peterson / US Forest Service
/
Wikimedia Commons
Along the Nez Perce National Historic Trail Yellowstone River at Laurel, Montana.

Landowners who would live near support infrastructure for NorthWestern Energy's future natural gas plant in south-central Montana are pushing back against the development.

Some residents in Laurel say the planned 175-megawatt plant threatens property value, the environment and public health.

NorthWestern must obtain a number of governmental approvals to complete the project, including a floodplains permit from Yellowstone County and land easement from the state to build a methane pipeline under the Yellowstone River in Laurel.

"I own a vineyard next to the river where this pipeline is going in," resident Kasey Felder told a meeting of the state land board on Tuesday. "It does adversely affect me."

Despite residents' opposition, the board approved an easement modification for the pipeline.

But NorthWestern still faces hurdles: Last week Yellowstone County withdrew a floodplains permit for the pipeline after residents filed a petition in district court outlining concerns about insufficient notice and public comment.

Though Yellowstone County maintains in its response that it followed all procedures and laws, it said it would suspend the project’s floodplains permit and ask the Board of County Commissioners to hold a public hearing, which is now scheduled for February 1.

In a statement provided to YPR, NorthWestern Energy spokesperson Jo Dee Black defends the utility's plans for the Byron natural gas pipeline, saying the design says: “ensures the safety of the public and the environment, including the Yellowstone River, during construction and its use to deliver natural gas for our Montana customers."

Black says NorthWestern's current natural gas pipeline capacity in Yellowstone County is "maxed out," and the new infrastructure will be able to support any growth in the Billings area.

"Although delaying work is costly, NorthWestern Energy has followed the permitting process and will continue to do so to secure approval, again," she said.

Proponents of the natural gas plant, like local unions, say it would provide good job opportunities in the region.

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