LAUREL — NorthWestern Energy’s plan to run a pipeline underneath the Yellowstone River has been put on hold, and Laurel neighbors in the area are frustrated with the company’s lack of communication.
“NorthWestern Energy has not been forthright or forthcoming whatsoever in the process of building this pipeline,” said Laurel resident Carah Ronan, who lives on the south side of Laurel.
She says her family is one of more than 50 who is worried about the rapid construction of the line, known as the Byron Pipeline. The pipeline is meant to serve a proposed $140 million gas-fired power plant across the river in Laurel.
“They have not listened to any of us as neighbors. We’ve invited them to come out and have conversations with us and they just continuously ignore us,” Ronan said.
NorthWestern Energy officials say they need to build the 175-megawatt power plant to meet growing demand for power in Montana and the surrounding region.
Yellowstone County District Judge Michael Moses has ordered a halt to the project, saying the county allowed Northwestern Energy to drill in the flood plain without first following proper public notification. Moses' ruling came in response to a lawsuit filed by neighbors seeking to block the project.
“They’re required by law to first-class mail notify all of the adjacent property owners to the proposed easement location. They did not do that,” said Laurel resident Steve Krum.
Krum and other Laurel residents are exasperated for a variety of reasons, including the project's potential harm to the environment.
“I mean these trees are what hold together the banks of the Yellowstone River. And without them, this whole area can just wash away,” Ronan said.
The construction could harm the wildlife population in the area as well, neighbors say.
“There are eagles here, there are tons of migratory birds that come through this area, there’s plenty of wildlife that come through this area,” said Ronan.
Others are also worried about falling property values, saying construction backs up to residents’ fence lines. They’ve had to deal with high noise levels and bright floodlights shining through their windows.
NorthWestern Energy told MTN News that the utility "has followed the permitting process and will continue to do so to secure approval, again.
“NorthWestern Energy’s natural gas pipeline capacity into the Yellowstone County area is currently maxed out. The Byron Pipeline will provide service for any significant growth in the Billings area.”
These Laurel residents say they’ll do whatever it takes to stop the project again and are now looking ahead to a public hearing on Jan. 18. There, Yellowstone County commissioners will take public comment as they consider whether to grant NorthWestern Energy another permit to push the project forward.
“We’re putting things together and we’re going to hold them accountable. And we’re not going to stop until this stops,” Ronan said.