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Mar 11, 2013 9:15 PM by Nathan O'Neal

Ranchers upset over proposed pipeline in Altar Valley

ALTAR VALLEY, Ariz. - A proposed natural gas pipeline has ranchers and environmentalists in Altar Valley fuming.

Kinder Morgan Inc., came up with two plans for it's $204 million international pipeline which would run on either side of Highway 286, stretching for nearly 60 miles to the border to deliver natural gas to Mexico.

One one side of the argument, you have the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge but literally on the other side of the road is option two -- a stretch of land operated by ranchers.

Ranchers argue something as drastic as a pipeline could change the area forever.

Sarah King works on a ranch in Altar Valley -- she fears building a pipeline through the valley will destroy her way of life.

"If you're looking at a pipeline that's disturbed undeveloped ground... you're then looking at spots of bare ground and dirt," King said, who also spoke on behalf of the Altar Valley Conservation Alliance.

"Basically if you don't have grass you're not going to be able to run cattle on the ground and ranchers take that very seriously," King said.

The less likely alternative for the pipeline was a plan to have it run through the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge.

A spokesperson for U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service weighed in on the proposal, telling News 4 Tucson in a statement: "...the proposed construction of the pipeline would disturb significantly more habitat than the existing right of way for Highway 286, and the impacts are not consistent with the mandate for which the Refuge was established."

However, even environmentalists agree that both options are harmful in some way.

"To me, it's like the choice do I want a bullet in my head or a bullet in my heart?" Roy Emrick said, who is a representative of Friends of Buenos Aires. "Both are unacceptable."

However, King has another concern that the pipeline will create a new pathway for smuggling through ranches.

"We really think that if you put in a north-south corridor that you're going to be inviting people to travel along that," King said.

What's more, King said the pipeline could just open the flood gates for more unwanted development in the area.

"The worry is that if you let in one thing there will be a stampede of energy things to follow," King said, adding that she believes there should be a third option: to take the pipeline talks out of the area altogether.

As for the proposed plans, they're set for approval by the County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.

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