Pipeline meeting attracts a handful

"Proponents of a natural gas pipeline across Puget Sound and South Whidbey Island hosted an open house Wednesday at the Bayview Senior Center.In the first four hours of the five hour appearance, only 18 members of the public signed in, studied the maps and asked questions.The pipeline would originate in Canada and cross the United States border at Sumas. The tentative route shows one spur crossing to Camano Island, running much of its length, then cutting under Saratoga Passage to Whidbey Island.The pipeline would emerge on Whidbey near Saratoga and exit the island at Mutiny Bay. Earlier reports that the favored route was from Sandy Point to Maxwelton were incorrect.The pipeline is proposed by Canada-based Westcoast Energy, which has dubbed it the Orca Natural Gas Pipeline.Officials at the meeting said the pipe across Whidbey would be 10 to 12 inches in diameter, and no compressor station would be located on the island. It would be buried several feet underground rather rapidly once work begins in 2004. Depending on the terrain, pipeline can be laid from 1 to 5 kilometers per day (roughly one-third mile to 1 2/3 miles).Lizette Parsons, ORCA representative, said that natural gas is safer than propane in homes. Should the pipeline rupture on land the gas would escape into the atmosphere. It's lighter than air, she said. Should the underwater portion rupture, it would bubble to the surface and dissipate.Some of the first people to sign in at the meeting were well known environmentalists such as Tom Campbell, Jennifer Lail and John Graham. Parsons said they pointed out wetlands and other areas of concern. They were very helpful, she said.She was not disappointed by the small number of people who attended the open house. The night before in Port Hadlock about the same number showed up, she said, and many were anxious to have natural gas available. They were very positive -- disappointed that they had to wait until 2004 for natural gas, she said. The pipeline would reach Jefferson County by crossing Admiralty Inlet after it leaves Whidbey Island.Eric Hansen, an engineer who lives in Freeland, stopped by to ask technical questions but wasn't ready to make a decision on the proposal. I'll keep an open mind, he said.Puget Sound Energy and Cascade Natural Gas representatives were also on hand. If the pipeline is approved by federal and state officials, those two companies will vie to provide local distribution lines. WestCoast Energy would build only the main line.The information provided at Wednesday's open house is also available on the Internet. Check out the project on the Web links below. "

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