Speakers raise concerns about water at meeting on Red Lake project

Water issues were the main concerns of more than 21 people who spoke at the second Red Lake Gas Storage Project public scoping meeting last night.

The meeting, conducted by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the Bureau of Land Management, was attended by about 50 people, including District 1 Mohave County Supervisor Pete Byers, members of the Red Lake Coalition, representatives for the Long Mountain Development Group and residents of Hualapai Valley and Kingman who could be impacted by the project.

Red Lake Gas Storage, L.P., a subsidy of Aquila, an energy holding company based in Kansas City, Mo., bought the storage project from Southwest Gas Corp.

in January 2002 with the intent to build an underground natural gas storage facility 30 miles north of Kingman.

The pipelines from the facility would connect to existing interstate natural gas pipelines.

While at the podium, Byers said the supervisors have no official position on the proposed project, which would include digging salt caverns for gas storage.

The project is in Byers' district.

"Mohave County will comment when we see the draft Environmental Impact Statement," he said.

All comments were recorded and will be incorporated into the draft Environment Impact Statement, FERC environmental manager Rafael Montage said.

Officials on hand to answer questions were Eric Wilson of the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, Lucas Lucero, a BLM project manager, and several Aquila representatives including Aquila Vice President Mark Cook.

Comments ranged from impassioned pleas to protect the available water at Red Lake, to concerns about the desecration of the lake and land along the proposed pipelines.

Many of the participants said they also are frustrated by the lack of statistical data about the aquifer and the water to be used for the project.

Elno Roundy speaking for the Northwest Arizona Watershed Council, said the council had several concerns about the project, including the need for additional studies about available groundwater and impacts to fresh water in the aquifer, the need for additional pump tests in the area and more information concerning seismic activity on the completed gas-filled caverns.

The council is also concerned with the disposal of brine by deep-well injection.

Tom Carter, who spoke for the Long Mountain Development Group, said residents of the planned housing community would be directly affected by the project.

"The gas storage and pipelines would have an adverse impact," Carter said.

"We do not think Red Lake Gas Storage has exercised diligence in this project."

Carter voiced concerns about the placement of gas pipelines near the development, the noise of the project and concerns about the Western burrowing owl, a species found in the area and currently on the endangered list.

Carter also had concerns about geology reports concerning the aquifer, where Red Lake Gas Storage plans to draw water from for its project.

About 50 Hualapai Valley residents have wells in the area, and the city of Kingman owns water rights at the same aquifer.

"We have a geologist report from 13 years ago.

I say we get another geologist to examine the area," he said.

Environmental attorney Myron Scott, representing Denise Bensusan, Robert and Fern Fenwick and Jack Ehrhardt, cautioned the regulatory agency representatives to study the issues carefully.

Scott said groundwater is the only source of water in the county and needs to be protected for future generations.

"There has not been much current hard studies of this project," he said.

"And my clients have several concerns about what Aquila would do in the event something does go wrong."

Shawn Severn, who has a doctorate in environmental science and is a Hualapai Valley resident, said he has noticed several deficiencies the data compiled by Aquila regarding the amount of water available at Red Lake.

Severn said the 4.5 billion gallons of water needed for the Red Lake Gas Storage Project is taking away from the 10,000 new residents who are predicted to move into the Hualapai Valley.

"We need to know with a great deal of certainty that the water will be here," he said.

Severn said more tests will reduce uncertainty about the project and assess potential damage to the environment.

"We will be examining all documents for its accuracy to NEPA, (National Environmental Policy Act)," he said.

"We are as a group willing to really work with you to evaluate this project."

Denise Bensusan, who owns 160 acres in Hidden Meadows she plans to develop, spoke of the need to "defeat" the project to protect the water at Red Lake.

Bensusan said the data on water sources for the project is "vague and ambivalent with few protections and unlimited use of water sources by Red Lake Storage Gas Project, L.P."

Jack Ehrhardt, a Hualapai Nation planner, said the tribe passed a resolution Monday to oppose the project on grounds that it infringed upon tribal water rights, would deplete water sources and destroy Hualapai religious and cultural resources at Red Lake.

Later, speaking on his own behalf, Ehrhardt said about Aquila:

"It is a commodity venture for them to make money.

For this community it means water."

Robert Fenwick, a Hualapai Valley property owner, said he could see Red Lake from his home.

"You people are going to drain every bit of water out of the ground," Fenwick said.

"There won't be any left for anyone else."

Hualapai Valley landowner Tom Lavin said the quality of air and water is one reason he moved to the valley, and he doesn't want his well to go dry should the project drain all the water from the Red Lake basin.

"Why aren't they willing to put up a bond, or to buy our property," Lavin said.

"Water is the most thing most definitely needed."

Land owner Jack Whitner said current hydrology studies and other information supplied by Arcadis, the environmental firm hired to prepare environmental data for the project, is nothing more than "speculative," especially with Arizona is going through a serious drought.

"We need to know more," he said.

"My kids and grandkids will be living here.

We need guarantees about this project."

Lantz Indergard, the Arcadis geologist who prepared most of the studies used by Aquila to support the project, spent time explaining how much water is available in the aquifer, how much would be used for the project and what would happen with the salt after the mining process, but he could offer no guarantees.

"We feel confident that the salt will settle on the bottom," he said.

When Aquila project manager Mark Cook spoke of similar gas storage projects in the eastern part of the country, land owner Michael Baron replied: "Back east it rains a lot and they can pump all the water out of the ground.

If it rained as much here as back east we wouldn't be so concerned."

Other comments addressed issues such as who would pay for environmental cleanup if something were to go wrong with the project and concerns about additional gas storage facilities at Red Lake.

Montag said the commission is still gathering information about the project for the draft Environmental Impact Statement and will continue to take comments through April 14.

He encouraged comments be filed electronically through the FERC Web site or by calling 202-502-8985.