ELKO, Nev. (AP) — The company that plans to build a 680-mile natural gas pipeline across Nevada and Utah has reached a tentative $15 million agreement with a pro-ranching group over the project, a Nevada lawmaker said. Sen. Dean Rhoads, R-Tuscarora, said the Public Lands Council, which represents ranchers who use public lands, is expected to vote on the proposed deal at its annual meeting September in Pendleton, Ore. He said the agreement calls for El Paso Corp. to provide $15 million over 10 years, with half of the money going into an interest-bearing fund to be used for rangeland improvements and research. El Paso spokesman Richard Wheatley declined to comment. The proposed agreement was announced Friday after ranchers expressed concern over a deal between El Paso and two environmental groups that had agreed to drop their opposition to the project set to run between Wyoming and Oregon. El Paso agreed last month to contribute $20 million over the next 10 years to conservation efforts in the pipeline corridor to be overseen by the Idaho-based Western Watersheds Project and Oregon Natural Desert Foundation. Both groups have indicated they intend to use some of the money to buy out grazing permits from willing sellers on federal land, with the intention of permanently retiring the permits issued by federal land managers. Rhoads said he and other ranchers are concerned about that deal’s potential impact on livestock grazing, and he still doesn’t believe El Paso has made its position clear on the issue. He said details about the proposed deal between the Public Lands Council and El Paso were announced in a phone conference Friday involving about 40 people. “There was a lot of criticism and some praise,” Rhoads told the Elko Daily Free Press. “The leadership thought they got all they could get.” Elko County Commissioner John Ellison said he hopes the agreement gives ranchers enough latitude to use the $15 million to offset problems Western Watersheds could create. Ranchers are concerned about the possibility of litigation. Representatives of nine counties along the pipeline route are scheduled to meet Aug. 12 in Salt Lake City to consider the matter, Elko County Commissioner Demar Dahl said. Dahl said he believes the counties should be involved in whatever agreement is worked out between El Paso and the Public Lands Council. Meanwhile, the Sierra Club joined opposition to the project Friday by filing an appeal with the Interior Board of Land Appeals over the pipeline. The group is challenging the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s approval of rights of way for the pipeline. The Sierra Club supports an alternate route along existing roads, railroads and utility corridors that would add about 55 miles to the route, said David Hornbeck, chairman of the Toiyabe Chapter of the organization. “The Sierra Club doesn’t oppose the pipeline as such and is proposing a better route,” Hornbeck said. “This alternate route means more jobs and less environmental destruction. The BLM should not have approved an inferior route and should have looked closer at wildlife and cultural values before making its decision.” Last month, the Tucson, Ariz.-based Center for Biological Diversity sued the BLM and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in federal court in San Francisco, saying the pipeline will cut across pristine land and harm endangered fish. The pipeline will cross more than 1,000 rivers and streams, harming species such as the Lahontan cutthroat trout, Warner Creek sucker, Lost River sucker and Colorado pikeminnow, according to the group.
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