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Residents attend pipeline forum

Dougherty County Commissioner John Hayes views a computer simulation presented by Spectra Energy associates at the Monday night public information forum for the proposed Sabal Trail Transmission pipeline that might come through part of the county. (Staff Photo: Brad McEwen)

Dougherty County Commissioner John Hayes views a computer simulation presented by Spectra Energy associates at the Monday night public information forum for the proposed Sabal Trail Transmission pipeline that might come through part of the county. (Staff Photo: Brad McEwen)

ALBANY — Concerned residents attended a public forum Monday night at Albany Technical College, hoping to get more information about a proposed natural gas pipeline that will run through western Dougherty County.

Sabal Trail Transmission LLC, which is a joint venture between energy giants Spectra Energy Corp. and NextEra Energy Inc., hosted the event to give citizens an opportunity to ask questions and learn more about the proposed project.

Set up like an open house, the forum had 15 Sabal Trail subject matter experts on hand to greet residents and walk them through a variety of information stations covering different subjects related to the pipeline.

Each station contained general information about building and maintaining a pipeline, as well as information about the Sabal Trail project, which came about in response to Florida Power and Light announcing its intent to use natural gas for its power generation needs.

The project, with an estimated construction cost of nearly $3 billion, will carry natural gas from western Alabama to southern Florida through 465 miles of pipeline. Approximately 19 miles of the pipeline are slated to run through western Dougherty County.

Sabal Trail representatives estimate roughly 50 local citizens attended the open house, hoping to get answers and gather information about how construction of those 19 miles might impact the community.

“I thought we had good attendance,” said Sabal spokesperson Andrea Grover. “It was another step for us to build a relationship with the community.”

Grover continued by saying that most residents had questions about environmental impact and safety procedures, things about which she felt Sabal experts were able to provide answers.

“I thought we had some good questions,” Grover said. “I felt that people came away with a lot of information.”

Some of those in attendance, however, felt the open house was not what they expected, saying it offered little information on impact specific to Dougherty County and those residents closest to the proposed route.

Dinorah Hall, who has been a spokesperson for residents who will be directly impacted if the pipeline crosses on or near their property, said she found the format confusing and not conducive to residents looking for specific answers to tough questions.

“I think it was a good P.R. event,” said Hall. “I felt they were selling the company. There was no real opportunity for hard-core questions.”

Hall said she — along with many others who are concerned about the project — was hoping for a more formal event where citizens could ask questions to which the answers would be given more publicly.

“How’s this really going to benefit the people of Dougherty County?” asked Hall. “This thing caught everybody by surprise.”

Monday’s forum was the first of many area events Sabal Transmission plans to host, as the project moves toward a projected May 2017 completion date.

Although dates have not been set, Grover said the company will host a meeting in November to discuss the building of a compressor station in Dougherty County. The station, which would sit on approximately 60 acres that have not been chosen, would help move nearly 1 billion cubic feet of natural gas through the pipeline daily.

Grover also said a second general public information meeting will be held in Albany given residents another opportunity to gather information. Grover said representatives from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) will also be in attendance at the December event.