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James MacPherson, Associated Press, Published July 02 2013

Trees fail to hush pipeline pump noise in ND

BISMARCK — A Canadian pipeline company's attempt to muffle noise by planting trees around a pump station in southeast North Dakota isn't working and may have made things worse, neighbors say.

Calgary-based TransCanada Corp. last month planted more than 100, 6-foot tall spruce trees around its Keystone pump station to quiet complaints from nearby residents in Fort Ransom, which has fewer than 80 people. The company also installed insulation around pipes to help silence noise at the facility that contains four, 5,000-horsepower electric turbines.

“We've spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on this,” Shawn Howard, a TransCanada spokesman in Calgary, said Tuesday. There doesn't seem to be anything that will satiate residents “other than complete silence,” he said.

Howard said the company plans another inspection at the site later this month.

“Once we receive those results we will have a better idea about what reasonable solutions may exist,” Howard said. “There is not any scientific study we can point to that says the trees will help reduce noise, but this tree-planting program will help provide a shelter belt and an additional visual barrier.”

Howard said the turbines aren't always running or may be operating at different capacities. Weather conditions also have an effect on noise coming from the pump station, he said.

“Noise concerns are complex to properly address,” he said.

Bill Kiebke and his wife and son live less than a mile from the pump station and said the tree-planting project was a failure when it comes to quieting the turbines.

“I'm 72 years old and my hearing isn't up to par anymore, but I can still hear those turbines,” Bill Keibke said.

Kiebke's son, Joe, said the trees that were planted on three sides of the pump station are funneling noise directly at the home, creating an amphitheater effect.

“When you hear the oscillating howl of those turbines, you just want to shake your head and pull your hair out,” Joe Kiebke said.

The Keystone pipeline has been operating for three years and transports crude oil from tar sands near Hardisty, Alberta, across Saskatchewan and Manitoba, and through North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, on the way to refineries Patoka, Illinois and Cushing, Oklahoma. The pipeline is separate from the company's Keystone XL pipeline that still needs the Obama administration's approval to proceed.

Brian Kalk, chairman of North Dakota's Public Service Commission, said the pump station has been operating lower than the permitted 55-decibel level since it came on line.

Kalk said TransCanada has gone “above and beyond” in its efforts to hush noise at the site.

“That doesn't mean we're not concerned with what (residents) are saying,” Kalk said. “But we believe TransCanada has been a good neighbor.”

Kalk said he and fellow commissioners Julie Fedorchak and Randy Christmann have been to the site and have not noticed excessive noise.

Bill Kiebke likened the commissioners’ visits to taking a vehicle to a mechanic and the problem temporarily stops.

“They need to sit out here on my porch for a while,” Kiebke said. “They're welcome anytime. I've got cold beer and my wife is an excellent cook. If they stay for a while, they'll hear what we hear.”

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