Underground gasoline pipeline will run from Norco, through Lake Pontchartrain, to Mississippi

08 06, 2012 by The Times-Picayune

The company planning a 141-mile pipeline from Norco to Mississippi hopes to begin work in Lake Pontchartrain -- the first stage of the year-long construction process -- in the coming weeks. The underground 16-inch pipeline, which will carry gasoline and diesel, will run from the Valero St. Charles Refinery to Collins, Miss., where it will tie into other distribution pipelines. Valero and Kinder Morgan Energy Partners have formed a company called Parkway Pipeline to build and operate the pipeline.

Company spokesman Allen Fore said the project has received the needed permits from state agencies, but is awaiting a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers before it can begin construction. He said he understood the corps permit could be granted as early as next week.

"We'd like to begin by Aug. 13,'' Fore said of the construction along the bottom of Lake Pontchartrain. But that date may be optimistic: The corps likely won't rule on the permit for another four to six weeks, corps spokesman Ken Holder said.

"There had to be an environmental assessment,'' Holder said of the agency's vetting of the permit application.

In the lake, a jetting process will be used to create a trench and the pipeline will be placed in the trench. The pipeline will be a minimum four feet beneath the lake bottom. Workers will be housed on barges and will work 12-hour shifts. There will be no work at night, Fore said.

Fore said the company expects the work in Lake Pontchartrain to take two to three months.

The pipeline will begin at Valero and follow the guide levee along the Bonnet Carre Spillway into the lake, where it will follow an existing pipeline corridor that essentially runs from the southwest side of the lake diagonally toward the northeast side of the lake, running beneath the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway several miles from the north end of the bridge.

Causeway General Manager Carlton Dufrechou has not expressed significant concerns regarding the pipeline. And John Lopez, executive director of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, said the company has been responsive to concerns voiced by his agency.

Lopez said he was pleased the pipeline would follow the spillway guide levee in St. Charles Parish rather than go through the environmentally sensitive Labranche Wetlands and that he has spoken with pipeline officials about building shutoff "redundancies'' and developing an effective response plan in the event of leaks or spills.

"We did learn from BP,'' Lopez said, referring to the malfunctioning blowout preventer that allowed millions of gallons of crude to flow into the Gulf of Mexico for 87 days after a massive oil well explosion in 2010.

Lopez said the lake is also a habitat for Gulf sturgeon and manatees, both protected species. A permit the state Department of Natural Resources issued to the pipeline company also notes that it runs through potential habitat for the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker.

Lopez said the refined gasoline and diesel flowing through the pipeline - it will have an initial capacity of 110,000 barrels per day - is actually more toxic to the lake than crude, but that it would evaporate more quickly in the event of a leak or spill.

Nonetheless, he said, "We think there is an acceptable level of risk here.''

The $220 million pipeline will emerge from Lake Pontchartrain near Fontainebleau State Park, and head north through St. Tammany and Washington parishes and Walthall, Marion, Jefferson Davis and Covington counties in Mississippi.

The permit from the state Department of Natural Resources says the company's required mitigation for impacts to marsh habitat will be determined after one full growing season; that it must purchase 1.8 acres of cypress swamp habitat from the Timberton Wetlands Mitigation Bank to offset the 1.21 acres of bottomland hardwoods habitat that will be lost in construction; and that it must pay the state Office of Coastal Management $800 for the loss of 0.02 acres of fresh marsh habitat.

Parkway Pipeline hopes to have the pipeline operational by September 2013.