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* TransCanada says new route avoids Nebraska Sandhills
* Obama delayed decision on environmental concerns
* Environmentalist withholds comment till route map posted
WASHINGTON, Sept 5 (Reuters) - The company planning to build the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline from Canada to Texas said on Wednesday it has submitted a new route for the project that will avoid sensitive ecological areas in Nebraska.
TransCanada Corp said the pipeline will avoid the Sandhills, a region of prairie and sand dunes that is rich in plants and wildlife, with thousands of ponds and lakes.
President Barack Obama delayed a decision on the pipeline earlier this year, citing concerns about the northern portion of the route near a major aquifer and the Sandhills in Nebraska.
TransCanada has been working with Nebraska officials to come up with a new route and it hopes to have U.S. State Department approval for the northern section early next year.
"Based on feedback from the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality and the public, we have refined our proposed routing," Russ Girling, TransCanada's president and chief executive officer, said in the release.
The alternative route submitted in an environmental report to Nebraska on Wednesday was developed "based on extensive feedback from Nebraskans, and reflects our shared desire to minimize the disturbance of land and sensitive resources in the state," said Girling.
A Nebraska public affairs official said he expected the state to publish maps of the new route on its website later on Wednesday.
An environmentalist said she would withhold comment on the new route until she had seen a map of the project.
A public affairs official with the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality said he expected the state to publish maps of the new route on its website later on Wednesday.
Construction on the 700,000 barrels per day southern part of the line, renamed the Gulf Coast project, has already begun after Obama gave his support for that section.
The Gulf Coast project will drain a glut of crude in the U.S. midsection fed mostly by the oil boom in North Dakota.
The northern section of the line needs approval from the State Department because it crosses the national border.