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Natural gas pipeline could come through Dougherty County

Protected land in northwest Dougherty County is part of a proposed route that would bring a 465-mile natural gas pipeline from central Alabama to northeast Florida and possibly run through much of the county. (Staff photo: Carlton Fletcher)

Protected land in northwest Dougherty County is part of a proposed route that would bring a 465-mile natural gas pipeline from central Alabama to northeast Florida and possibly run through much of the county. (Staff photo: Carlton Fletcher)

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An existing propane pipeline runs through a large part of Dougherty County, including land owned by private citizens who have been contacted about possible right-of-way acquisition for a natural gas pipeline. (Staff photo: Carlton Fletcher)

ALBANY — The late-July one-sentence news release was innocuous enough, making its way across various area news desks without so much as a second look.

But that release — “Spectra Energy Corp. today announced that Sabal Trail Transmission LLC, a joint venture of Spectra Energy and NextEra Energy Inc., has been awarded a 465-mile interstate natural gas pipeline project by Florida Power & Light Company to provide transportation services for their power generation needs beginning in May 2017.” — is the impetus behind a growing local grassroots movement to stop Spectra from bringing the pipeline through Dougherty County.

“This is about our land, protected land that’s evolved over a lifetime,” one northwest Dougherty County landowner contacted by Houston-based Spectra Energy said. “The harm that would come from running this pipeline through that land would be irreparable.”

The company is in the planning phase of the estimated $3 billion project that would bring a natural gas pipeline from Tallapoosa County in central Alabama to Osceola County in northeast Florida. Spectra is considering a number of routes for the Sabal Trail project, one of which would take it through much of Dougherty County. That route would include 55 miles of pipeline in Alabama, 196 in Georgia and 214 in Florida.

As word of the proposed project has spread locally, mostly by property owners contacted by Spectra discussing possible rights-of-way acquisition, many have contacted local government officials expressing concern. Dougherty County Commissioner Ewell Lyle broached the subject briefly at the commission’s Monday meeting.

“We, as commissioners, are listed as stakeholders in this project, and they’re supposed to send us information about the project and its possible impact on Dougherty County,” Lyle said. “I’ve received some very basic information, and I think it’s important that we look into this and get as much information as possible.”

The manager of privately-owned farmland west of Albany out Gillionville Road said Wednesday he’d been contacted by a project surveyer wanting to look at the property. The manager, who asked that neither his name nor the name of the Florida-based family that owns the land be used in this article, said the surveyor was allowed to look over the property but he was told that there’s not much chance that he’d get permission to run the pipeline on the land.

Florida Power & Light has already booked almost 60 percent of the expected capacity of the pipeline, which is projected to come on line in May of 2017. FPL’s president said in a statement the utility is switching its electricity generation almost exclusively to natural gas-fired. It is currently being supplied with natural gas through a pair of existing pipelines.

“To continue meeting the growing needs of our customers efficiently and reliably in the years ahead, we will need more natural gas than the two existing major pipelines can deliver, which makes a third, independently routed pipeline system absolutely essential,” Florida Power & Light President Eric Silagy said in the statement. “Although Florida has essentially no natural gas reserves, many areas of our country have a wealth of supply.”

The Alabama-to-Florida Sabal Trail pipeline proposed to run through Dougherty County would have the capacity to transport up to 1 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day. That’s enough to meet the needs of more than 4 million homes annually.

Dougherty County Attorney Spencer Lee said at Monday’s commission meeting that a number of public hearings would be held if the county remains part of the route of the proposed pipeline project. But a group of concerned local citizens said they’re not waiting to take action.

“We’ve begun to research; we’ve started contacting state environmental groups for their input,” one said at a recent meeting. “Even though our properties are directly impacted, our concern is not just about our land. We’re talking about a delicate ecosystem that could be wiped out in a matter of days. We’re talking about the impact on our rivers, which are among our state’s most valuable natural resources.

“And we’re talking about a danger that could ruin the underground aquifer system that supplies the drinking water to Southwest Georgia and a large part of North Florida. We have too much to lose, and we’re prepared to fight this invasion of our land and our community.”