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Public comments accepted through June 12; three public hearings set this week in San Diego region

By Miriam Raftery

May 22, 2017 (San Diego) – SDG&E and SoCalGas have applied to the California Public Utilities Commission to build a new natural gas pipeline from Rainbow through the Marine Corps Air Station at Miramar to Mission Valley to replace an aging and potentially dangerous line, also boosting capacity and reliability for the region.  (View application.  View all project documents .)

But Miramar’s commanding officer is opposing the project on military land—and instead wants to route the pipeline through Mission Trails Regional Park, East Elliott, and Goodan Ranch, including a large pipeline under heavily populated Santee neighborhoods and major roadways including a State Route 52 interchange.

The Utility Consumers Action Network (UCAN), which has often criticized utilities’ actions, supports SDG&E’s plan to shut down the old pipeline after reviewing extensive records.  The new proposed 36-inch-high pressure natural gas transmission line would replace a 70-year-old pipeline currently in use.  The proposed pipeline is even larger in diameter than the 30-inch gas pipeline that caused the deadly explosion in San Bruno, California in 2010, which leveled a neighborhood and killed eight people.  (Pacific Gas & Electric was convicted of six felony charges in that case.)

Repairing the old line is not possible due to many known defects and the likelihood of others.  Also, the original line was built before new safety requirements for pressurized lines were enacted after the deadly San Bruno gas pipeline explosion, and lacks capacity to adequately serve our region. 

UCAN also supports SDG&E’s preferred route through Miramar.  In testimony to the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), UCAN representative Margaret Felts notes that the old pipeline is already past its projected 50-year lifespan and inspections by SDG&E of just portions of the line found 2,782 of flaws such as cracks, some serious.

“A failure in Line 1600 would result in a rupture rather than a leak,”  Felts warns, adding, “a rupture that is initiative in one flaw could result in a pipe splitting open for a long distance, possibly miles, exposing a large number of people and multiple property to the effects of an explosion and subsequent gas releases and fires…The prudent action to promote safety and reliability of the SDG&E/SCG pipeline system serving the San Diego service territory would be to take Line 1600 out of service as soon as possible.”

 “SDG&E initially studied the Rainbow to Santee non-Miramar alternative, along with more than a dozen other alternatives, but rejected this route due to a larger impact it would have on environmental resources as well as privately-owned land, as compared to our route,” Jennifer Ramp, senior communications manager with SDG&E, told ECM.

The alternative route would be three miles longer, crossing undeveloped and urban areas, including preserves and sensitive natural communities and aquatic resources including vernal pools, mixed chaparral, coastal sage scrub, grasslands, oak woodlands, riparian habitat, creeks and tributaries that flow into the San Diego River, according to SDG&E. The route would also cross 1.7 miles of private land, requiring more landowner agreements or potential acquisition of private property.

“SDG&E continues to believe that the proposed route through MCAS Miramar is superior to the Rainbow to Santee non-Miramar alternative, but will support MCAS Miramar’s request to take a hard look at the alternative during the review process,” says Ramp, adding that it will ultimately be up to the California Public Utilities Commission to decide whether to approve the project, and where it should be constructed. 

The city of Santee has also voted to oppose routing the pipeline through Santee. The new pipeline, though built with stronger safety features than the old line elsewhere that it would replace, would be larger than the gas line that caused the deadly San Bruno explosion and fire in 2010.

A citizens’ group dedicated to protecting Mission Trails Regional Park (MTRP) is organizing opposition to the Santee/MTRP route.   “The alternative routes would be a major degradation to our natural areas and a disruption to park visitors and native flora and fauna. They are unacceptable,” a post on the Save Mission Trails website reads. 

Save Mission Trails organized originally for its successful battle to stop the Quail Brush gas-fired power plant from marring Missing Trails.  Plans for that facility were ultimately withdrawn following opposition by the cities of Santee and San Diego, and major opposition from residents in the region.

The San Bruno tragedy underscores both the importance of replacing aging pipelines that may become dangerous as they degrade, but also the importance of maintaining pipes and locating major gas lines away from heavily populated areas to the degree that’s possible in heavily populated regions such as southern California.

 The two alternate routes proposed by Colonel Woodworth, commanding officer at Miramar, to the CPUC would impact MTRP, Goodan Ranch and the City of Santee.

If these communities do not speak out with objections, one of two alternative routes could be approved by state regulators.  Both routes would pass through MTRP and the city of Santee.

The first alternative route travels from Poway through the MTRP West Sycamore area, the Goodman Ranch, Fanita Ranch property, under Fanita Parkway, turning west under Carlton Oaks Blvd., ending at the Rumson Road Natural Gas Pipeline access point.

The second alternative goes from Poway through East Elliott, down Mission Trails’ Spring Canyon, through the East Mission Trails Staging area, under the State Route 52/ Mast Blvd. intersection, under the West Hills Parkway/Mast intersection, ending at the Rumson Road Natural Gas Access point.

“SDG&E’s top priority for our customers and our employees is safety, the primary reason why the Pipeline Safety & Reliability Project was proposed,” says Ramp.  SDG&E proposed replacement of the pipeline following the 2011 California Natural Gas Pipeline Safety Act was passed by the Legislature in response to the San Bruno catastrophe, though UCAN’s testimony indicates plans for upgrades have been in the works for years. Ramp says SDG&E studied “dozens of alternatives” before concluding that the Miramar route is the best option from an environmental standpoint as well as having the lowest costs and most benefits for ratepayers.

In response to Miramar's initial concerns, the CPUC proposed several refinements to the original proposed route over Miramar land.

Miramar's Lt. Commander T.D. Brinkman, in a March 20, 2017 letter to the CPUC,  cited potential concerns with three proposed refinments of the pipeline route across the Miramar air station property.  One option, Spring Canyon Fuel Break, follows a fuel break line.  Consruction would have to avoid base operations and the pipeline would have to be designed to be compatible with controlled burns and use of heavy equipment to maintain the fuel break.  A second option, Kearny Villa Road, posed no stated issues except Brinkman questioned why the new line connected connect with Line 2010 in or closer to a Kearny Villa Road Easement.  A third option, Aqueduct, would need to be configured to avoid interfering with San Diego County Water Authority infrastructure improvemnets.  "We do not object to your proposed refinement to end the new line at line 2010 without continuing south and doubling back as originally proposed)," his letter states.

Public comment closes June 12th. You can send your comments to SDgaspipeline@ene.com or submit comments online at http://sdgaspipeline.cores.ene.com/SubmitComment/.   In addition, several public scoping meetings will be held on May 23, 24 and 25 locally; the public is also encouraged to speak out at a Santee City Council meeting May 24th. (Scroll down for details.)

The public can submit comments in writing via the links above, or attend public scoping meetings held from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and again at 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at each of these locations:  

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Pala Mesa Resort, Ballroom, 2001 Old Highway 395, Fallbrook, CA 92028

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Park Avenue Community Center, Auditorium 210 E. Park Ave., Escondido, CA 92025

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Alliant International University, San Diego Campus, Green Hall, 10455 Pomerado Road, San Diego, CA 92131

Project Name: Pipeline Safety and Reliability Project – New Natural Gas Line 3602 and De-rating Line 1600 (PSRP) Environmental Impact Report (EIR) Notification – Legal Notice process.

Concerned residents are also encouraged to attend a Santee City Council meeting on Wednesday, May 24 7 p.m.  You may address this issue as a “communication” item and turn in a speaker slip at the start of the meeting. A vote by the Council is not planned, as the city already opposes the pipeline project passing through Santee. But activists urge shoring up support should any Councilmember “waffle” on the issue.

A sample letter can be founded on the Save Mission Trails webpage. 

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