Editor's Note: Dakota County Commissioner Tom Egan represents Mendota Heights, Lilydale, Mendota and a portion of Eagan. He was elected to office in 2004 and is now serving his second four-year term. Egan will write regularly to Patch readers about county government.
Are you, your family or your friends among the 460,000 people who visited Dakota County's this past year? Did you enjoy swimming at Schultz Beach, fishing, kayaking or boating on the park's lakes, walking, cross-country skiing or riding horse on the park's trails, utilizing the Visitor's Center or enjoying other aspects of this spectacular 2,000 plus acre park?
If you have or plan to visit the park in the future, you may want to join the Dakota County Board of Commissioners in watching carefully whether Xcel Energy renews its plans to convert the Black Dog Generating Plant to natural gas from coal and expand its capacity. Those plans could potentially have a major impact on Lebanon Hills Regional Park.
Xcel Energy had previously announced its desire to convert the Black Dog Generating Plant in Burnsville from a coal-fired plant to natural gas and to expand its capacity.
These plans for the time being have been placed on hold.
To convert from coal to natural gas, a new gas pipeline would need to be brought in. Just before Xcel placed these plans on hold in November, Northern Natural Gas, on behalf of Xcel Energy, had contacted Dakota County regarding the potential construction of a natural gas pipeline a distance of 7.67 miles from 135th and Bacardi Avenue West in Rosemount to Cedar Avenue in Eagan to serve this plant. This would go directly across Lebanon Hills Regional Park.
Northern Natural Gas has an existing pipeline and related easements across Lebanon Hills Park. If conversion of the Black Dog plant proceeds, they have indicated to Dakota County the need for an additional 20-inch diameter natural gas pipeline within and adjacent to the existing easements and pipe.
They have further indicated that they would need an additional nine to fifteen feet of permanent easement and between 50 feet and no more than 70 feet in wetland areas of temporary easement to accommodate construction. They have also asked Dakota County to authorize a 300-foot wide corridor for environmental review within the park.
My fellow county commissioner, member of the Hall of Fame and former Viking football player Paul Krause, pointed out that what they are asking for is as wide as a football field is long.
Northern Natural has indicated that this process would likely take from four to six months. Despite the incredible natural beauty of Lebanon Hills Park, clear-cutting would be required within the permanent easement and temporary work area. The depth of the excavation is expected to be three to four feet to the top of the pipeline with a total excavation depth of approximately six to eight feet.
Vegetation is "generally" permitted over the pipeline; but if this were to proceed Dakota County would have grave concerns about the potential loss of high quality natural resources such as mature woodlands, prairies and wetlands in the park.
By acquiring the land for Lebanon Hills Regional Park, Dakota County has subjected itself to restrictive covenants with the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Metropolitan Council. While we are currently researching whether consenting to this new pipeline would violate any of those covenants, Northern Natural has stated that they are willing to assist Dakota County with issues dealing with these covenants; but they would also consider using their power of eminent domain as a public utility if they cannot negotiate a voluntary consent to the desired easement.
With the plans currently placed on hold, there has been no application filed for the conversion of the Black Dog Generating Plant to natural gas and therefore no immediate plans for construction of this pipeline.
Xcel Energy must demonstrate the need for expansion of the Black Dog Generating Plant and conversion to natural gas. This may take some time. In the meantime, the Dakota County Board will be watching this issue very carefully.