A levy that is being undercut by the Yellowstone River west of Laurel poses a threat to infrastructure, and it’s a problem that should be of concern to entities other than the City of Laurel, said Kurt Markegaard, Laurel’s public works director. The issue should be of special concern to the owners of pipelines under the river, believes Markegaard, since if the levy goes the river will likely scour the river bottom removing material over their pipelines.
There are three pipelines crossing the river at that point – the Williston Pipeline, ExxonMobil’s Pipeline, and another that serves CHS.
The federal Department of Conservation recently required that the companies do a survey of their pipelines, said Markegaard and the survey’s revealed that for at least one of them, the cover has already been reduced to only about two feet of material. Williston’s pipeline already ruptured once a couple years ago, and they had to replace it.
Markegaard said that he has already warned the City of Billings’ Water Department and the Lockwood Water District that they should be prepared for the possibility of that happening again in the near future.
“I’m bringing it to your attention,” Markegaard told county and city officials last week, “because it’s not just a Laurel issue.” But, apparently no one else is stepping forward. Markegaard said that he has contacted Fish Wildlife and Park, the state Department of Transportation, the Conservation District, the railroad, and the refineries. From the responses he has received most deny having any authority or vested interest to deal with the problem.
The portion of river of concern is changing dramatically all the time. It was because of changes in the river’s course that Laurel had to build a new water intake in 2003.
The changes continue — earlier this year 16 feet of river bank eroded away in one weekend, said Markegaard
Markegaard suggested that maybe the bank needs to be “armored” to stabilize the levy, but he also said that among the experts he has consulted there were those who believed that nothing would prevent the levy from going – and that it could go any day.
If the levy goes the City of Laurel will probably lose most of Riverside Park, an area that has served as access to the river and has a boat ramp. The boat ramp has already been undercut by the river, and is no longer useable and has been closed. Fish Wildlife and Parks, which is the agency responsible for maintaining the ramp, have said that they have no money to repair it, said Markegaard.
The Army Corp of Engineers has looked at the river situation. Markegaard said that they informed him that they could spend up to $100,000 to do an assessment of the problem and then could provide a grant of up to $1.5 million to fix it, but the grant would have to have a 35 percent match from the local community in some manner. Markegaard said that Laurel cannot afford to do it, but he is moving forward in submitting an application to the Corp. In the meantime he hopes to find someone interested in dealing with the situation to assist in matching the grant.
The Big Sky Business Journal
P.O. Box 3262
Billings, MT 59103