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Flaming Gorge pipeline proposal premature, federal agency says

The Flaming Gorge Reservoir near the Wyoming/Utah border would be the starting point of the "MIllion" pipeline to Colorado.
The Flaming Gorge Reservoir near the Wyoming/Utah border would be the starting point of the "MIllion" pipeline to Colorado.
Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY — Federal regulators have shot down the Flaming Gorge pipeline proposal — for now — asserting too little information was submitted regarding its route and the approvals necessary for its construction.

Dubbed the "Million" pipeline because of its wealthy backer Aaron Million, a Colorado entrepreneur, the proposed hydroproject involves tapping Green River water from Wyoming, conveying it over the Continental Divide and across the front range of Colorado to a new reservior in Pueblo.

Million initially sought federal approvals through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, then dropped that avenue in favor of turning the 501-mile pipeline into a hydropower generator. That switch put the project under review by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which on Thursday said the preliminary permit application was dismissed as premature.

"Until a water conveyance pipeline is actually built, authorizations have been obtained for a specific route, or the process to identify a specific route has been substantially completed," Million is unable to supply the necessary details for the issuance of a permit under federal requirements, the order said.

The order, signed by Jeff Wright, FERC's director of the office of energy projects, concluded that the application lacked the necessary information about the proposed route and instead included maps with a "single line" drawn from the water supply's two withdrawal locations near Flaming Gorge to its end location near Pueblo, Colo.

But Million said Thursday that the federal order is just a blip in the often complicated federal permitting process and he remains undeterred in his efforts.

"We've had some discussion with FERC over the last several weeks and the underlying issue is they want additional information on routing and the timeline," he said. "We will provide that over the next couple of weeks and move the process forward."

He added the agency seemed most uncertain over the location of the seven hydropower components in his proposal.

"We thought we had addressed them, but obviously not well enough," he said. "They left open the window to get the documentation that is needed."

Million added that his project is gaining investor interest with the issuance this week of a $3 billion request for proposals for the design, build, finance and operation of the pipeline.

"There's been interest from all over the world," he said. "The first call was from Australia."

Opponents to the long-controversial proposal were noted in the Thursday order, including the U.S. Forest Service, Wyoming Fish and Game, the National Parks Conservation Association and the Utah Rivers Council. Uintah County leaders have voiced opposition as well, worried that an already strained Colorado River system would be further compromised by tapping water upstream in Wyoming.

Multiple environmental groups hailed the federal order, including Boulder-based Western Resource Advocates.

"The Flaming Gorge Pipeline is no closer to reality today than it was 10 years ago," said Stacy Tellinghuisen, water and energy policy analyst with the organization. "This denial essentially says the pipeline proposal is nowhere near being ready for even a preliminary permit. We have always argued there is no reason to spend taxpayer resources studying such a flawed idea and we are pleased to see today's ruling."

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