Cache County could press natural gas giant El Paso Corp., builder of the 680-mile Ruby Pipeline, for $15 million to help keep land open for grazing.

The County Council could join with other counties and ask El Paso to set up a fund for buying land-use rights, including grazing, mining and oil and gas development, said Cache County Executive Lynn Lemon.

The move comes in response to El Paso's recent deal with two environmental groups; the Idaho-based group Western Watersheds Project and the Oregon Natural Desert Foundation recently agreed to not tie up the project in court in return for $20 million from El Paso to help protect habitat.

Western Watersheds Project Executive Director Jon Marvel has said grazing on public lands should end.

"Their reputation is trying to do away with multiple use," said Lemon. "We want funding to protect multiple use."

The issue is hot in Box Elder County. Ranchers angry about what some called a "blackmail" payoff and are worried about loss of grazing lands showed up to vent at a meeting last week. A Box Elder county commissioner said the seven counties through which the pipeline passes would work together protecting landowners and ranchers, according to the Standard-Examiner.

The Cache County Council is scheduled to discuss joining in with other counties at its next meeting Aug. 10.

Meanwhile, up to 800 construction workers are expected to descend on southern Cache County within the next couple of months to build the historically huge pipeline.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Monday announced it had granted El Paso Corp. permission to start construction. Work at various locations in Wyoming, Utah and Nevada started Saturday, said El Paso spokesman Richard Wheatley.

"We are ramping up all across the right-of-way," said Wheatley.

The $3 billion line is planned to run from Opal, Wyo., about 100 miles east of Logan, to the town of Malin in south central Oregon. The 42-inch-diameter pipeline will be among the world's largest, approaching the size of the 48-inch, 800-mile-long Trans Alaska oil pipeline. It will be capable of delivering 1.5 billion cubic feet of gas per day.

Wheatley said he didn't know when work on the 18-mile segment crossing southern Cache County would happen but that it would be soon. Lemon told the County Council last week to expect work to start within a few months. The pipeline passes straight across the county just south of Avon and just north of Mantua Reservoir.

El Paso has the go-ahead from the government, but a lawsuit filed Friday threatens to complicate the project schedule.

The Tucson, Ariz.-based Center for Biological Diversity sued the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in federal court in San Francisco. The pipeline will cross more than 1,000 rivers and streams, harming several species, said Noah Greenwald, endangered species coordinator for the group.

"More broadly, we don't understand why they had to choose to put a new pipeline through some of the most pristine lands in the West," he said. "Why couldn't they use an existing pipeline route?"

Wheatley declined to comment on that matter.

If and when the project comes to Cache Valley, Lemon said land near the Eccles Ice Arena in North Logan is planned to accommodate R.V.s of workers who, Wheatley said, will remain for several weeks.

The county and Cache County School District stand to collect from El Paso about $600,000 per year in property taxes on the pipeline.

When the County Council approved a rezone for the pipeline in September, Councilman Gordon Zilles weighed the benefit with the danger the pipeline presents.

"Of course if an explosion were to happen, it would be disastrous. It would probably kill some people in Paradise," he said. Given the possibility, he said supporting the rezone was a tough decision but that the risk is small.

"When you logically think about it you know there's a possibility," said Zilles. "You still have to be willing to take the chance. Those types of decisions are hard."

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The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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