A company looking to build a controversial pipeline through much of eastern Georgia, including Effingham County, has announced it is suspending work on the project.
Kinder Morgan announced on its Web site that work on the Palmetto Pipeline is stopping “following the unfavorable action by the Georgia legislature regarding eminent domain authority and permitting restrictions for petroleum companies.”
The Georgia General Assembly passed House Bill 1036, which put a moratorium on private petroleum companies’ ability to seek eminent domain. Sponsored by Rep. Bill Hitchens (R-Rincon), the bill passed 116-48 in the House and 53-1 in the Senate.
The pipeline was expected to traverse 39 miles of Effingham County, the single longest stretch in any of the 12 Georgia counties it will cross. The project had a projected cost of $1 billion and was estimated to create 1,200 jobs during its construction, according to Kinder Morgan. Once finished, it was going to create 28 permanent jobs.
“We were really pleased to hear that Kinder Morgan decided to suspend activity on the Palmetto Pipeline at this time,” said Emily Markesteyn of the Ogeechee Riverkeeper. “All along, we said it would put thousands of acres of invaluable wetlands and river systems at risk and overall, the pipeline was not necessary for Georgia.”
Kinder Morgan was expected to apply for its permits to begin construction with the various appropriate regulatory agencies soon. Work on the pipeline was anticipated to begin this year, with a completion date of late 2017.
Under the auspices of the bill, which has been sent to Gov. Nathan Deal for his signature, the Petroleum Pipeline Commission will meet to discuss changes in the laws and rules of the eminent domain process.
“While this legislative action was disappointing, we remain committed to providing customized transportation solutions to our customers,” the announcement on Kinder Morgan’s Web site said.
Earlier this month, a Fulton County Superior Court judge upheld state Department of Trans-
portation Commissioner Russell McMurry’s decision prohibiting a pipeline company from using eminent domain for its project.
McMurry declared that Kinder Morgan’s Palmetto Pipeline project failed to necessitate awarding a certificate of public convenience. Such a certificate would have granted the company the ability to use eminent domain in acquiring easements and rights-of-way for the pipeline. At the time of the decision, McMurry said he was pleased with the court affirming the DOT’s decision the pipeline did not constitute a public convenience and necessity. He said at the time that the agency was not making a determination as to the project’s importance, only as to whether it should be allowed eminent domain to obtain easements.
“Their request to use eminent domain by a private company really brought to light how little guidance or protection the current rules and laws give,” Markestyen said, “so we’re also very pleased that the Georgia General Assembly passed House Bill 1036 this session in order for a study commission to fully vet the myriad of issues related to petroleum pipeline construction.”
In February 2015, Georgia Department of Transportation received an application from Palmetto Products Pipe Line LLC requesting a certificate of public convenience and necessity for a proposed petroleum pipeline that would run 360 miles from the Georgia-South Carolina border near Augusta to the Georgia-Florida border.
In May 2015, the commissioner denied the application for the certificate citing evidence that the pipeline would not constitute a public convenience or necessity sufficient to allow the use of eminent domain.
Kinder Morgan officials have maintained there is a need for the pipeline, citing the number of long-term commitments the company received before it started the permitting and approval process. The DOT received more than 3,000 public comments by mail or online, and there also
were seven public meetings and two public hearings.
McMurry, in his May 19, 2015, decision, said there was little evidence of increased demand for gasoline in the area and there was no support for the claim it would lower gas prices in the area. Kinder Morgan officials refuted those assertions in their appeal.
The proposed pipeline was opposed by a number of environmental groups and a Web site, pushbackthepipeline.com, was set up for groups and citizens coalescing against its construction.