Sometime in the next year, 1.8 billion cubic feet of natural gas a day should begin to flow beneath David Ray’s family grain farm just northwest of Auburn. Five feet beneath it, to be exact.

Sometime in the next year, 1.8 billion cubic feet of natural gas a day should begin to flow beneath David Ray’s family grain farm just northwest of Auburn. Five feet beneath it, to be exact.


 


Construction of the Rockies Express Pipeline — a 1,679-mile gas line that will stretch from the Rocky Mountains to Ohio when completed in 2009 — reached the Springfield area this week with the creation of staging areas south of the city as a prelude to the major digging to come in the next few months.


 


Work also follows months of negotiations for right-of-way and rules for restoring farmland once the pipe goes through.


 


“It’ll be about 600 feet north of my house. It’ll go right through the middle of my farm,” said Ray, who said the grain farm has been in his family for 100 years.


 


Ray said he could not discuss specifics of a lease agreement, but pipeline developers first contacted the family a year ago.


 


Federal regulators gave the final go-ahead last month to construction of REX East, as the eastern section is known. An agreement also was reached with the Illinois Department of Agriculture for land restoration.


 


“We are now authorized to begin construction in Illinois. It was the last step of the approval process,” said Rockies Express spokesman Allen Fore. He added that about 95 percent of land acquisition is completed.


 


The pipeline cuts through central Illinois from the Mississippi River just south of Quincy to the Indiana border, north of Terra Haute.


 


A staging area just outside Kincaid, about 25 miles southeast of Springfield, is abuzz with heavy construction equipment, “welding tents” where automated welders will meld 80-foot sections of pipe and stacks of the greenish, steel cylinders that eventually will carry natural gas beneath area farmlands.


 


“This is huge. It’s from Colorado to Ohio. I don’t remember anything like this,” said Brad Bayles, who has worked local construction for more than two decades.


 


Bayles is union steward on the project for Laborers’ Local 477 in Springfield. The union has 20 to 30 workers at the site daily, but the figure is expected to hit at least 200 once heavy construction begins. Another 300 to 400 workers from other unions are expected to join the project.


 


Farm Bureau offices in each of the affected counties and the Illinois Department of Agriculture also negotiated an agreement that calls for at least five feet of topsoil above the pipeline on prime ground and for restoration of farmland once construction is completed.


 


The company negotiates lease payments with individual landowners. Some land in completed sections was acquired through eminent domain, though Rockies Express says court action accounts for less than 1 percent of acquisitions.


Terry Savko with the Department of Agriculture’s bureau of land and water resources said landowners are free to negotiate their own conditions on issues such as land restoration, drainage and erosion control.


“We said this is the minimum standard that Rockies has to meet (to restore the land). The landowner can say they don’t need to do any of those things, or they can take the agreement and be even stricter on certain items,” said Savko.


 


It will be hard for landowners to appreciate the sheer size of the project until steel pipe begins arriving, she added.


 


“It’s hard to imagine a 42-inch pipe, 5 feet in the ground,” Savko said.


 


Sangamon County Farm Bureau manager Jim Birge said several meetings with Rockies Express representatives were held, and that he is satisfied the rules will protect some of Illinois’ best farmland.


 


“They signed off that they would adhere to our standards. It was the biggest part of our concerns,” said Birge.


 


Tim Landis can be reached at (217) 788-1536.


 


Rockies Express Pipeline


 


- 1,679-mile pipeline from the Rocky Mountains to Ohio will carry natural gas from fields in Wyoming and Colorado to the Midwest and East Coast. Estimated cost $5.6 billion, including $1 billion for the Illinois section.


 


- Constructed of 42-inch-diameter steel pipe in 80-foot sections. Requires a 125-foot construction right-of-way and 50-foot permanent easement.


 


- Development consortium includes Kinder Morgan Energy Partners, Sempra Pipelines & Storage and ConocoPhillips.


 


- Approximately 1.8 billion cubic feet capacity per day is enough to supply more than 1 million homes.


 


- Illinois section crosses Pike, Scott, Morgan, Sangamon, Christian, Macon, Moultrie, Douglas and Edgar counties. The 26-mile section in Sangamon County will run between Springfield and Auburn. One of five gas compressor stations will be at Blue Mound, about 40 miles southeast of Springfield.


 


Source: Rockies Express Pipeline


 


Restoring the land


 


Rockies Express Pipeline and the Illinois Department of Agriculture negotiated an 18-page agreement for construction and land restoration as part of the pipeline work.


 


Among the highlights:


 


- Pipe must be covered by a minimum of five feet of topsoil on cropland, three feet on pasture, wooded or brushy land and other areas not classified as prime farmland. Restoration of land to its original condition to the extent possible.


 


- Regular inspections along the pipeline for soil erosion.


 


- Drain tile repair or replacement must be completed before topsoil is returned. Construction of additional tiles as needed to assure proper drainage.


 


- Land must be restored to its original elevation.


 


- Location of aboveground facilities such as valves and meter stations should be as “unobtrusive” as possible.


 


Source: Illinois Department of Agriculture