Laurel residents frustrated with NorthWestern Energy as pipeline construction stalls

LAUREL — NorthWestern Energy’s plan to run a pipeline under the Yellowstone River has been put on hold, and Laurel’s neighbors in the area are frustrated with the company’s lack of communication.

“NorthWestern Energy has not been forthright or open at all in the process of building this pipeline,” said Laurel resident Carah Ronan, who lives on the south side of Laurel.

She says her family are among more than 50 people worried about the rapid construction of the line, known as the Byron Pipeline. The pipeline is to serve a proposed $140 million gas-fired power plant across the river in Laurel.

“They didn’t listen to any of us as neighbours. We invited them to come out and have conversations with us and they continually ignore us,” Ronan said.

NorthWestern Energy officials say they need to build the 175-megawatt power plant to meet growing electricity demand in Montana and the surrounding region.

Yellowstone County District Judge Michael Moses ordered the project halted, saying the county allowed Northwestern Energy to drill in the floodplain without first following proper public notification. Moïse’s decision came in response to a lawsuit by neighbors seeking to block the project.

“They are required by law to send first class mail to notify all property owners adjacent to the location of the proposed easement. They didn’t,” said Laurel resident Steve Krum.

Krum and other Laurel residents are infuriated for a variety of reasons, including the project’s potential damage to the environment.

“I mean these trees are what hold the banks of the Yellowstone River together. And without them, this whole area can be washed away,” Ronan said.

Construction could also harm the area’s wildlife population, neighbors say.

“There are eagles here, there are tons of migratory birds that pass through this area, there are a lot of wildlife that pass through this area,” Ronan said.

Others are also worried about plummeting property values, saying construction is leaning on residents’ fences. They had to contend with high noise levels and bright spotlights shining through their windows.

NorthWestern Energy told MTN News that the utility “has gone through the approval process and will continue to do so to re-obtain approval.

“NorthWestern Energy’s gas pipeline capacity in the Yellowstone County area is currently at maximum capacity. The Byron Pipeline will provide service for any significant growth in the Billings area.

These Laurel residents say they will do whatever it takes to stop the project again and are now awaiting a public hearing on Jan. 18. There, Yellowstone County commissioners will take public input as they consider granting NorthWestern Energy another permit to move the project forward.

“We are putting things together and we are going to hold them accountable. And we’re not going to stop until this stops,” Ronan said.

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