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Palmetto Pipeline forum yields differing opinions

A public forum regarding a proposed plan to build the Palmetto Pipeline in the coastal area of Georgia was held on Thursday morning at the Armstrong State University Center in Savannah that included many prominent figures in the state of Georgia, including Rep. Bill Hitchens, Sen. Rick Jeffares and House Majority Leader Jon Burns.

The Palmetto Pipeline was first given the green light to begin in 2014 by Kinder Morgan, the largest energy infrastructure company in North America. Kinder Morgan specializes in owning and controlling oil and gas pipelines and terminals.

The idea is to build an oil pipeline from Jacksonville, FL up the coast of Georgia (including going through Effingham County) and stopping at two terminals owned by Kinder Morgan in Savannah and North Augusta, SC.

The green light turned to red, however, when the plan drew criticism and opposition from local residents and environmental groups in Georgia.

The forum began with an introduction of the members of the State Commission on Petroleum Pipelines and led into a welcome by Dr. Linda M. Bleicken, President of Armstrong State University.

Rep. Hitchens then addressed the attendees of the forum and spoke on the history and purpose of the commission.

After Rep. Hitchens spoke, the floor was open to presentations by numerous experts relating to the project, including Angela Jones, Deputy General Counsel for the Georgia Department of Transportation, Chuck Mueller, Director of Cross Media Programs – Georgia Department of Environmental Services and Hunter Hopkins, Petroleum Council of Georgia.

Many of those presenting oppose the pipeline and expressed their disdain for the idea.

“We’re here today because pipelines can be dangerous,” Executive Director of Ogeechee Riverkeeper Emily Markesteyn said. “Cross-departmental coordination is necessary for this.”

Tonya Bonitatibus, Riverkeeper for Savannah Riverkeeper, Inc., shared those thoughts.

“I protect water,” Bonitatibus said. “I also protect 1.1 million people who drink that water. A landowner in Burke County came to us one day saying that a notice was put on their doorstep that stated there would soon be a pipeline running through their property.”

Through the use of eminent domain, a concept that seems almost certain to be used in the construction of the Palmetto Pipeline if it is approved, the company who owns the pipeline (Kinder Morgan) would be able to seize land that is currently owned by both commercial and residential owners while paying out a wage on the property. In most cases, the government uses this method and pays out “fair market value”.

“This isn’t the government doing this,” Bonitatibus said. “This is a private company that has come in and said ‘we should be able to use eminent domain’.”

At the end of her comments, Bonitatibus received an ovation for her moving words.

Like Bonitatibus, numerous citizens voiced their opinions on the matter – most of them disagreed with the idea. Private landowners, citizens unaffected by the construction but worried about the ramifications and current property owners who own land in the current projected route of the pipeline all made comments.

After three and a half hours of discussion, the forum convened and the matter was put to rest.

Commission members include Sen. Jeffares and Rep. Hitchens (co-chairs), Sen. Frank Ginn (47th district-Danielsville), Sen. Jack Hill (4th district-Reidsville), Rep. Barry Fleming (121st district-Harlem), Rep. Al Williams (168th district-Midway), Richard Dunn (Director of the Georgia Department of Environmental Protection), Seth Coker (Director of Governmental and External Affairs) and citizen members appointed by Gov. Deal: Ryan Chandler (Industry Representative), Brian Nipper (Local Government Representative), Mike Clanton (Business Representative), Wade Hall (Agriculture Representative) and Robert Ramsay (Conservation Representative).

This was the first of three public forums that will be held on the matter – the other two will be in Atlanta and Augusta.