The Stevens County Board of Commissioners is in a difficult position with the pipeline request from AmpAmericaa to use public right of ways. The company wants to install low-pressure biogas pipelines along about 14 miles of roads in the county.
Amp Americas wants to convert dairy manure into natural gas to fuel natural gas-powered vehicles. The company will partner with Riverview LLP. Riverview will re-start its manure digesters as part of the conversion process.
Amp Americas may not be requesting public money for its proposed project but it is requesting something very valuable from the county in the use of public right of ways. Amp Americas said the project would likely be too costly and time-consuming to do without right of ways because the company would need to buy or obtain easements on private land.
The proposal to convert dairy manure into biofuel is a good one because it reduces reliance on fossil fuels, it will generate jobs in the county, it uses a product produced in the county and it will add to the overall tax base. It can be argued that without some sort of public governmental help, development of renewable energy such as biogas, wind and solar, the U.S. could not make progress in reducing reliance on fossil fuels.
Additionally, there is a strong possibility that if the manure isn't used in a pipeline biogas project, it would be trucked out of Stevens County to a biogas conversion plant in the region. That would add to more wear and tear on county and state roads.
But, county officials said at a Nov. 29 hearing on the proposed project that if the project is approved, the county would not be setting a precedent. Any future similar requests would be handled on a case by case basis, several county officials said.
The county may intend to handle any future similar requests on a case by case basis but if it grants Amp Americas request, it still would be setting a precedent for the county and the state.
Public right of ways are are designed for uses such as public utilities or even allowed uses such as snowmobile trails. Amp Americas and Riverview are private companies.
If the county grants the request it would be allowing a private company to use a public right of way. That is rare, if it ever happens. The project would need a variance from the Minnesota Department of Transportation to use the right of way but that variance approval hinges on whether or not the county supports the project. Support from the county and its residents would almost ensure that the MnDOT approves the variance.
Also, because there are no state and federal rules that regulate low-pressure pipelines that would be used in the Amp Americas project, the county would be assuming responsibility for oversight. Amp Americas has similar projects in Indiana. And company officials assured the county that other projects will be proposed by them and other companies in other states, this would be a first for Minnesota.
How Stevens County handles the request would be a framework for other counties in the state.
Amp Americas may not be asking for money but what happens when a proposal for a renewable energy project comes from a private company? Let's say the private company has the same credentials and sound science that Amp Americas has presented to the county. What if that private company wants to install a series of solar panels on public land? What if that private company requests an upgraded road so that solar panels can be installed on public land or private land? What if the private company requests public funding to help cover the costs of a solar energy or hog manure conversion project on private land?
The county will have already assisted a private company with its project. How can the county justify turning down another private company who requests the same type of help with its renewable energy project?
Whether it's a request for money or some other type of assistance, the county will have a difficult time turning down the request.
Editor's note: The Stevens County Board of Commissioners will have another hearing on a proposed right of way ordinance at 7 p.m. Monday, Dec. 17, in the commissioners room at the courthouse. The second part of the hearing will be to hear feedback on the Amp Americas proposal.