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Pipeline project draws questions, critics
meeting 1
A large crowd turned out for the first public hearing on a proposed pipeline that would cross through Effingham County. - photo by Photo by Pat Donahue

A proposed pipeline that would cross through Effingham County drew vocal opposition last Wednesday evening.

In the first of five scheduled public hearings on the planned Palmetto Pipeline, officials from Kinder Morgan, the company that is requesting the permits and clearances to build the pipeline, discussed the project. It is expected to cost $1 billion and take more than a year to build.

“While this is a proposed project, we pursuing it and beginning the permit process and look forward to an extensive and detailed dialogue with all of the stakeholders,” said Allen Fore, Kinder Morgan vice president for public affairs. “We know this is the beginning of a lengthy process of review and permitting of our project. I know there are those who have opinions on both sides of the pipeline project. We’re well aware of that.”

If the permits are granted, the company aims to start construction this spring.

“We don’t have anything today that allows us to do anything,” Fore said. “We will pursue the project, if we get the appropriate permits. We’ve identified, from what we believe is the best available data we have, that this is a good idea, particularly because of the co-location piece. Co-location is a big part of any siting process. We think we have identified a good route. Can we make it better? Yes.”

The pipeline project is expected to generate 1,200 jobs at its peak, and there will be 28 full-time jobs once it’s completed. The project also could generate several hundred thousands of tax dollars, according to Kinder Morgan.

“It will be a significant economic impact to the region,” Fore said.

The pipeline would convey diesel oil, gasoline and jet fuel for customers. The pipeline is planned to originate in Belton, S.C., and end in Jacksonville, Fla. If approved, the company will build a terminal south of Richmond Hill.

The pipeline will run through 20 counties in three states. As it stands, the Effingham stretch of the anticipated 360-mile project is the longest planned for any single county.

“We have identified a route, most of which is co-located within other infrastructure,” Fore said. “But we can always improve upon that. We always learn something from all these outreach meetings we do to define a better route.”

Said Brian Williams, Kinder Morgan’s director of engineering for pipeline products: “One of the things we want to do is minimize the impact of this pipeline. We wanted to do the maximum co-location of the existing pipeline or utility corridors.”

Refining the route
The proposed route for the pipeline also is drawing opposition, and Kinder Morgan representatives acknowledged the final route could be different from what is being presented currently. Concerns raised about the intended path for the pipeline included its potential to cross into a historic battlefield, where it may go in relation with the proposed Effingham Parkway and the wetlands and bodies of water it will have to cross.

“The pipeline route goes through extremely sensitive habitat and a lot of conservation lands,” said Randy Tate. “There has been a big effort to protect and preserve and manage the properly the route of that pipeline. A lot of public money and private money has been invested in protecting these areas.”

Part of the public hearings and comments may wind up leading to adjusting the route, Williams said.

Kinder Morgan is aware of the endangered species — which include the Eastern indigo snake and the gopher tortoise — in the area, according to Williams.

“We’re always interested in talking to people,” he said. “There are a number of factors that go into selecting a route and adjusting a route.”

The company also has learned how a method called horizontal directional drilling can allow them to take a pipeline under a riverbed by several feet.

“It’s a lot less invasive than the normal trench method,” Williams said.

Once the company establishes a center line for the route, it will proceed with wetlands surveys, followed by biological and cultural resources surveys. The data will be collected throughout the spring.

“There is an awful lot of work to be done,” Williams said.

In the next couple of weeks, the company will be conducting biological, wetlands and cultural surveys.

“We have to get all that information collected to file our application,” Williams said. “We are involved with a number of state and federal agencies in the process.”

While much of the planned route will be within existing easements for pipelines or power lines, the company will be negotiating with private landowners for easements through their property. The company also has the power of eminent domain, per state law, to obtain property it believes it needs.

Kinder Morgan will seek 50-foot easements, and the property owner’s restriction will be no permanent structures unless approved by the company.

“One hundred foot is devastating to me,” said Keith Moore, a Rincon resident who has had a visit from Kinder Morgan representatives to discuss a survey for easement. “Fifty foot is not too bad. One hundred foot is hitting me hard.”

Moore’s property abuts a railroad easement, and he pointed out that getting an easement from the railroad isn’t easy to obtain. Kinder Morgan may try to get an easement parallel to the rail line or under it, Williams explained.

Need for pipeline also questioned
Fore said this will be the first pipeline of its kind to serve the Savannah area.

“We think it will have a positive impact on prices,” he said.

But some of the speakers espousing their concerns questioned how much of an effect on area prices the pipeline and the need for more fossil fuels on the market.

“It seems like a risky investment to expand at this time, when it’s really a short-term need, regardless of what your customers are telling you now,” said Harry Gregory.

Fore said the pipeline is not being built on a speculative venture. The company has contracts and commitments from users waiting for the pipeline to be built.

“We have been looking at a project like this for many years,” he said. “It is all based on shippers wanting and needing this additional product. It is not proposing to build a project and hoping someone might use it. We wouldn’t move forward on this if there wasn’t a need for this, not in the short term but a long term basis, to justify a $1 billion that Kinder Morgan is investing in the project.”

For a project as costly as the Palmetto Pipeline, Fore said it has to meet two criteria — there has to be enough commercial base to justify the expense and to come up with a design that meets rigorous regulatory standards in all three states.

“Before we announced this project, we believed we had designed a project that could meet those standards and had the customers signed up to justify the $1 billion expense,” Fore said.