BARNESVILLE - The grass has grown over the hillsides south of Barnesville where the Rockies Express East pipeline went in nearly two years ago.
The local area is the tail end of Kinder Morgan's 1,679-mile project, transporting natural gas from the Rocky Mountains to points east. Of the 638 miles of REX East section, which begins in Missouri, 220 miles run across Ohio and end high on German Ridge between Clarington and Powhatan in Monroe County.
Barnesville village administrator Roger Deal says there was a lot of negotiating about easements, safety and the pipeline route, but he believes the company tried to work with local residents as much as their guidelines would allow.
The Rockies Express Pipeline travels through two local Ohio counties and is bringing in millions in new tax revenue.
Deal and the village took issue with the proposed route running under two sections of the reservoir that provides Barnesville's water. Kinder Morgan agreed to an alternate route around the reservoir, and according to Deal, "It's a little shorter route. I think it actually saved them some construction time and money."
The full environmental impact of the construction isn't known. Because much of the line runs through pastures, Belmont County's Soil and Water Conservation Department assisted farmers with issues regarding changes in soil quality and natural springs, but most of the concerns have been addressed at this point.
Two other environmental areas of concern were the Captina watershed and Raven Rocks. The pipeline passed near the Raven Rocks area in Monroe County using an existing utility easement. However, there was not enough room, and crews had to clear "a significant amount of woods."
Did the Rockies Express Pipeline, which runs through two local Ohio counties, provide a positive boost to the economy?
Yes, as the company that owns the pipeline, Kinder Morgan, will pay a minimum of $2.2 million in taxes to Monroe County for this tax year. This money will be split among townships and school districts.
Bryan Smith of the county Soil and Water Conservation Department says, "There haven't been scientists collecting quantitative data in Captina Creek every month," but he speculates there have been some qualitative changes, especially with the additional sediment running off the hillsides from the clearing.
The most positive aspect of the project is that much of the line runs with the existing easement, minimizing clearing and disruption.
The resulting revenues for the townships, villages, school districts and counties should be a welcome boost. Kinder Morgan, the parent company of the Rockies Express pipeline, has been billed for county and school taxes. The billing amount is determined by the state of Ohio based on property assessment and millage and is administered by the county auditors' offices. However, the company is appealing the invoiced amounts in both Monroe and Belmont counties.
In Monroe County, the state valued assessment is approximately $66 million, and the resulting revenue would be more than $3.7 million from the pipeline. REX filed an appeal placing the assessment at $39 million with a tax payment of about $2.2 million, a $1.5 million difference.
Pandora Neuhart, Monroe County auditor, said that REX will need to pay the taxes associated with their appeal amount, and the state will determine whether they will have to pay additional money for a greater assessment.
Neuhart noted that about 75 percent of the revenue will go to the school districts in the pipeline area, and the majority of the remaining revenue will go toward entities with county levies.
The situation is much the same in Belmont County, according to Auditor Andy Sutak. The tax bill was based on the state assessment of more than $84 million, but REX has filed an appeal placing their assessment at $50.2 million. Sutak says that approximately 70 percent of the final revenue will be passed to the Barnesville Exempted School District and Switzerland of Ohio Schools. The villages and townships of Somerset, Barnesville, Washington and Wayne will benefit based on their levies and will use the funds for fire departments, operations and road improvements. County programs servicing those areas will also receive some pipeline-related funds.
There is speculation that other pipeline projects may stem from the Clarington location, but a spokesperson from Kinder Morgan would not comment.