A company proposing to build a petroleum pipeline through Effingham County faced another round of stern opposition during a public meeting last Tuesday.
Representatives from Kinder Morgan, which is seeking permits to build a 360-mile pipeline from South Carolina to Jacksonville, Fla., laid out their plans in front of a crowd of approximately 75 people at New Ebenezer Retreat Center. But company officials were questioned about their firm’s power of eminent domain.
“A private company taking land by eminent domain is just plain wrong,” said Alan Zipperer.
Kinder Morgan is considering speaking with 200 property owners in Effingham County about possibly acquiring their land for the pipeline. The pipeline will run for about 200 miles through Georgia, from just outside of Augusta to the St. Mary’s River, and the longest stretch will be in Effingham.
Much of the pipeline is expected to be built within existing utility easements and rights-of-way, according to Kinder Morgan vice president of public affairs Allen Fore and Brian Williams, Kinder Morgan’s director of engineering for pipeline products.
“The rest of the pipeline will be built on easements we will acquire from individual property owners,” Williams said. “One of the things we have done in siting this pipeline is to try to minimize the impact of new pipeline. We’ve done that by co-locating alongside adjacent utilities.”
Fore and Williams said the company wants to minimize the impact on private land and will follow the Georgia Power easement as much as it can. The company also plans to follow the existing Cypress pipeline from just south of Savannah to Jacksonville.
“We’re surveying 300 feet; only 15 percent of that is what we actually need,” Fore said. “So we’re surveying more than we need, so the number of landowners is going to go down.”
Williams pointed out the proposed route already has been altered, once the company discovered it could run through the Briar Creek battlefield in Screven County. The company has biologists, archaeologists and cultural resources and wetlands experts looking for endangered species and habitats.
“Sometimes we run across things that cause us re-route, as we learn about particular features, terrain or species,” Williams said. “We expect there will be some adjustments made.”
Opposition to eminent domain
Fore said the company has not defined a final proposed route for the pipeline, and crews have been out surveying the path and requesting permission from landowners to get on their property for surveys. So far, the company has had only a 5 percent refusal rate from property owners.
But several Effingham County landowners whose property may be within the pipeline’s route voiced their objections to the project possibly coming through their land. Under a state law enacted 20 years ago, OCGA 22-3-88, companies constructing or operating petroleum or gas pipelines were granted the right of eminent domain.
“If there truly is a need for your pipeline, you will find willing participants, you will acquire the land necessary to construct it and you will pay what the general market will pay,” said Troy Davis. “The bottom line is, it’s a very slippery slope to grant a for-profit corporation the ability to utilize eminent domain to further their business interests. Once you do that, you turn around and force the unwilling participants to negotiate and go to a court to settle the issue.
“Any for-profit corporation should never be granted the right to utilize eminent domain to forward their progress.”
Residents also criticized the easement process. They pointed out that the payments for easement are made just once, but the landowner still must pay taxes on the property that has the easement.
Davis said his family already has ceded 30 acres to the county. Zipperer said his family gave up 35 acres to the Savannah Electric and Power Company 45 years ago.
“We got $700 in 1970,” Zipperer said. “We probably have paid more than 10 times that in taxes and we’re never going to get that back. There is no reset button.”
Other questions centered around potential harm to the environment and the many wetlands the pipeline will have to cross. Dot Bamback, president of the Ogeechee Audubon Society, said she saw first-hand the effects of a spill into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River. She asked Kinder Morgan officials what the safety record was for the firm’s 85,000 miles of pipeline.
“Our primary concern is damage to the wildlife and the wildlife habitats,” she said. “There are also spills, leaks and ruptures.”
Williams explained the pipeline can have its valves opened and closed either manually or by remote control from the company’s Alpharetta center. The computer can ask if there is a leak and will shut the pipeline until the issue is resolved, either the result of a genuine leak or bad information forwarded to the computer.
“We think we do a good job as operators,” he said. “Take a look at our record and compare us to other operators.”
Many of the speakers also urged the company to use the existing El Paso natural gas pipeline, rather than using private property.
“You cannot make me believe that you cannot use these existing openings already to construct this pipeline,” said Rhett Hughes of Walterboro, S.C. “I don’t see why this company can’t access the Georgia Power line and that El Paso gas line right-of-way. There’s plenty of room to construct this pipeline. You won’t have to clear an acre of timber.”
Added Zipperer: “Kinder Morgan already owns that right-of-way. It goes exactly where they want to go. There is plenty of right-of-way to put this line without taking another grain of sand from anyone in this room. I don’t know why that’s not an option.”
Williams said the company will explore using existing easements where possible.
“We would love to have joint occupancy of easements,” he said. “We are having discussions with the folks who have those easements, but I can’t promise you what the outcome will be. But wherever we can, that’s what we’d like to do.”
“You’re still going to need 75 feet,” said James Helmly. “You’re still taking land. You’re not minimizing the impact. I’m not nothing more than a damn gnat on an elephant’s ass to y’all. You’ve got places you can run it and you wouldn’t have these people and it’s on your own property.”
Fore said for the safe operation of the pipeline, the needed 50 feet may not be available in some existing utility easements.
“In our system, you need to have a 50-foot easement with nothing else, because we need that for the safe operation of that pipe,” he said. “So if you’re going to do something else, it’s not going to be within that 50 feet, it’s going to be next to that 50 feet. On a power line, you could be potentially on that easement. I totally understand what they’re talking about, but it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison.”
Pipeline’s need called into question
The pipeline is projected to cost $1 billion, and it is expected to cross 38 miles of Effingham County. Kinder Morgan officials said the maximum capacity of the pipeline is 167,000 barrels per day, though the initial capacity will be around 150,000 barrels per day. The air permit application Kinder Morgan plans to file calls for 25,000 barrels a day to be transported to a potential terminal outside of Richmond Hill.
Sixty percent of the total fuel is destined for Georgia markets, with the majority set aside for the Augusta market, Kinder Morgan officials said.
“Not a drop of this will be servicing Atlanta, because Atlanta has a different flavor of gasoline,” Williams said.
Fore also said the fuel running through the pipeline will not be exported.
The need for the pipeline also came under fire from the meeting’s attendees. Fore said the increased availability of fuel in the area could keep prices low.
“Right now, gas prices are at a reasonable level,” he said. “But they won’t stay that way. We can’t guarantee prices won’t go down. We can guarantee there will be additional supply. The more you bring in and the more variety of choices that you have, that generally leads to prices going down.”
Fore said the company has been contemplating a project such as the proposed Palmetto Pipeline for a while, but it wasn’t until now that there were the necessary commitments from vendors.
“We don’t build pipelines and hope someone might use them,” he said. “We build them for customers who have specific off-loads. They’re not going to sign up for long-term commitments on a project that they don’t think they can use.”
The company will be filing for a certificate of public convenience and necessity later this year, but the pipeline’s foes said the public hasn’t called for the pipeline’s need.
“When you say public, it needs to be public,” said Emily Markesteyn of the Ogeechee Riverkeeper, “and not just your customers. The burden of proof is on you to show the need, and unfortunately all we’ve heard is that your customers need the pipeline. I don’t think anyone in this room has told you we need it and we’re the public.
“I just really don’t think anyone is wanting to jeopardize our private property, our wetlands, our natural resources, everything we hold dear in southeast Georgia for the benefit of Jacksonville,” Markesteyn added.
Fore also attempted to allay concerns that the company would acquire homes through eminent domain for the pipeline.
“I can guarantee one thing — we’re not going to be taking anybody’s house,” he said. “Homes are not part of the equation, period. Now, there may be questions as to where we’re going to be on the property. But there are not going to be any homes taken as part of this project or any pipeline project we do.”
Kinder Morgan will employ about 1,200 people in building the pipeline and in upgrading the existing Plantation pipeline. Company officials said the foremen and supervisors likely will come from Oklahoma and Texas, though contractors likely will tap into local labor pools.
“We hope and encourage the local workforce will significantly be a part of the project,” Fore said.
There will be 28 permanent jobs created once the pipeline is finished, according to Kinder Morgan officials. If the pipeline receives its permits, construction is anticipated to start in spring 2016 and conclude in summer 2017. According to Fore, the company annually pays $4.9 million in taxes to the state and last year paid about $150,000 to local government entities in Effingham County.
The company plans to build terminals outside of Augusta, Richmond Hill and Jacksonville, and put in pump stations approximately every 90 miles along the route. The pump stations typically occupy about two to five acres, and Kinder Morgan will purchase that land outright.
“We’re finalizing those locations,” Williams said.
Last Tuesday’s meeting was the sixth the company has held and its first in Effingham. There also is a state Department of Transportation public meeting on the pipeline scheduled for April 21 at Richmond Hill City Center.
“I suspect we’ll do more, if a county wants us to do more,” Fore said. “This is not the end of the public dialogue process. This is the part the DOT requires; it doesn’t mean it’s the end of the public discussion on the company’s part. We’re certainly open to that part, too. The public discussion and dialogue continues.”
Kinder Morgan is preparing the permit, which it plans to file this summer, with the state and federal agencies that have to sign off on the pipeline project. In the meantime, Fore added, the company will continue to refine the route.
“We understand there a lot of concerns, and what we are trying to do is build a project that is the least impactful,” Fore said. “That doesn’t mean it’s not impactful. But the least impactful we can make.”
Andrew Mutter, an attorney with Atlanta firm King and Spalding, said the transcript of the meeting will be forwarded to the state DOT.
“They will consider that, among other comments made throughout this process in evaluating Kinder Morgan’s application for certificate of public convenience and necessity to build this pipeline,” he said.
Added Fore: “It is a long process. It is not black and white. There’s lots of gray here.”