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Great Lakes Article:

Pipeline project turns rocky
Halted after damage to Ohio streams found
By Howard Wilkinson
The Cincinnati Enquirer

A year ago, environmentalists and landowners in southern Ohio tried and failed to stop Marathon Ashland Petroleum's 149-mile underground pipeline project by saying that construction would damage many of the 363 streams it would cross.

It turns out they may have been right.

Last week, officials of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Huntington District halted construction with 40 miles of trenching to go when inspections revealed violations in a section running through the Richland Furnace State Forest in Jackson County.

Inspectors said workers had dumped fill material into waterways, failed to control sediment and erosion, and did construction work outside the approved right-of-way.

"I hate to say we told you so, but we told you so,'' said Rick Sahli, the Columbus lawyer who represents Stop the Ohio Pipeline.

The group is made up of residents of the Columbus area and the scenic Hocking Hills of southeastern Ohio. It battled the pipeline project for years before the Army Corps issued the construction permit in July 2002.

The $100 million project will connect a Marathon storage facility in Kenova, W.Va., to a terminal on the west side of Columbus through a 14-inch pipeline, buried 4 feet deep, that will be capable of carrying 80,000 gallons of fuel a day - fuel the company says it needs for a growing central Ohio market.

The line will snake under the Ohio River and up through eight Ohio counties. Using a 1916 right-of-way, it will pass through nature preserves and come close to the Hocking Hills State Park and Hocking State and Wayne National forests.

Last week's inspection of the pipeline project was the fourth conducted by the Army Corps that found problems, mostly dealing with soil erosion. Officials of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency also inspected various points of the pipeline construction and found similar problems.

Ohio River Pipe Line LLC - the Marathon Ashland subsidiary that holds the permit - came to an agreement with the Army Corps on an interim plan to clean up and repair the damage along the right-of-way.

But the company cannot resume digging its trench and laying pipeline until it submits a plan detailing how it will comply with the construction permit's environmental requirements. The pipeline company still has about 40 miles to go, including the section that runs through the Hocking Hills, Ohio's second-largest tourist attraction behind only the Lake Erie islands.

Company officials say they will do whatever it takes to bring the project into compliance. About 100 of the project's 600 employees and contractors work on compliance issues. The company is going to double that number.

Chuck Minsker, a spokesman for the Huntington District of the Army Corps, said officials will review the company's plan and decide whether to reinstate, modify or revoke Ohio River Pipe Line's permit.

"There's no way to say how long that process will take,'' said Minsker.

Larry Menchhofer is one of the Hocking County property owners whose land is being bisected by the pipeline. Last fall, crews felling timber cut a 60-foot swath through his land, a hilly expanse of meadows, creek gorges and massive rock formations.

"I'm not at all surprised that (the company) has not complied,'' Menchhofer said. "They've done very little to control the erosion on my land.''

Sahli said the problems found in the inspections were predictable.

"That is why we argued against burying a pipeline in very rugged terrain where the soil is so thin,'' Sahli said. "It was just common sense.''

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