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Fuel pipeline from the Kaskaskia River to Scott Air Force Base under consideration

Date: Thursday, November 9, 2023
Source: Will Bauer, St. Louis Public Radio

The Kaskaskia Regional Port District will conduct a $350,000 study at the start of next year to determine if building a fuel pipeline from the Kaskaskia River near Fayetteville to Scott Air Force Base is feasible.

Located about 15 miles southeast of Belleville, the Fayetteville terminal would receive the fuel from barges and then ship it roughly 16 miles north to the base.

Overall, the study would determine if the project is feasible and how much it would cost, including environmental issues, said Ed Weilbacher, general manager of the port district.

“We want to make sure it's environmentally safe,” Weilbacher said. “Then, we want to make sure it's cost-effective.”

The Office of Local Defense Community Cooperation, an agency of the U.S. Department of Defense, will cover $315,000 of the study cost, and the Illinois Department of Transportation will pick up the remainder, Weilbacher said.

In the next few weeks, the port district will start searching for qualified companies to do the study. Weilbacher said he hopes it will be complete by the end of 2024.

“They want reliable, redundant and resilient facilities at a base,” Weilbacher said. “That’s where this pipeline comes into play.”

The need for the pipeline, or an alternative way to transport fuel to the base, goes back to the 1990s — when the Defense Department considered closing the base as part of a national effort to streamline military operations.

Former U.S. Rep. Jerry Costello told the Illinois Business Journal in 2017 that he believed Scott was on a closure list. “We barely missed being closed that time,” Costello said.

The federal Base Realignment and Closure commission evaluated the effectiveness of bases all across the country. As part of the effort, a BRAC committee identified key areas where a base is satisfactory or needs improvement.

The committee identified two concerns regarding the quality of the facilities at Scott: the length of the runway and how fuel was transported into the base, said John Baricevic, who served as the St. Clair County Board chairman from 1990 to 2004.

At the same time, county officials had approved construction of MidAmerica St. Louis Airport adjacent to Scott, Baricevic said. The airport would be built for use by both public air travelers and the military.

“Some of the criteria was being taken care of by the airport construction, but not all of them,” Baricevic said.

The longer runways at MidAmerica satisfied the first deficiency identified by the committee. The expensive project, despite criticism from some, is credited by many for saving Scott.

“If MidAmerica hadn’t been built, I don’t believe Scott would have survived,” Mark Kern, the current chairman of the St. Clair County Board, said earlier this summer.

Little action has been taken to address the fuel deficiency, but that doesn’t mean regional leaders and officials haven’t thought about it, Baricevic said. In the '90s, it was a financial decision to not pursue the pipeline, he said.

“I think everybody thought at some point it would be the thing to do but not until the base itself, or the use of the civilian side, could support the cost of building the pipeline,” Baricevic said.

Now, 20 years later, port district officials said it’s time to figure out if the project would be worth it.

“The fact that the BRAC was done years ago, and we still don't have this issue resolved, shows that it needs to be done,” Weilbacher said. “I mean, it's been sitting out there — it's lingering.”

In a November 2022 letter, the former commander of Scott’s host wing, without officially endorsing the idea, wrote that the pipeline could provide a more efficient second option.

“Receiving fuel via pipeline provides many benefits including less risk of spills, faster receipt of fuel and less traffic on base,” Col. Chris Robinson, who now runs the Air Force’s budget, wrote. “Additionally, most Air Force bases have an alternate fuel receipt capability.”

In total, the base uses 4.5 million gallons of jet fuel per year, Robinson wrote. Currently, receiving 30,000 gallons of fuel requires three to five trucks and takes around one hour.

If the study supports construction of the pipeline, the next step will be designing the massive project — and nailing down details like the exact path, how big a pipe would be needed and what each end of the line looks like.

Weilbacher said a project like this would require the financial support of the federal or state government to complete.