Red surveyor’s tape marks the proposed route of a potential natural gas pipeline through Maria Matthew’s west Dougherty County farm. Once construction begins, nearly 40 acres, including this low lying bottom, of Matthew’s property will be disturbed. (Staff Photo: Brad McEwen)
ALBANY — Though construction has not begun, a proposed natural gas pipeline located in part of western Dougherty County has already become real for some residents.
As parent company Sabal Trail Transmission LLC hosts area residents at a series of educational forums about pipeline construction in southwest Georgia, some residents have already acquiesced to the fact that the pipeline is coming. And for some, that means it will be coming right through their property.
One such resident, Maria Matthew, has already had Sabal Transmission surveyors mark a possible route across part of her 250-acre farm located off Old Dawson Road.
Matt Layer, speaking on his wife’s grandmother’s behalf, says it just seems like no matter how area residents feel about it, more than likely it will happen.
“They it’s all preliminary,” said Layer. “It pretty much seems like this is it. There’s a lot of mixed emotions about this.”
Layer, who also manages Matthew’s property, handling landscaping, timber and wildlife management for her, said the 85-year-old owner understands that the pipeline might represent progress, but its presence will still have a direct affect on her life.
Layer said Matthew, who each morning takes a three-mile walk around the trails and roads that crisscross her property, has grown to love the land and the creatures that dwell on it, like her children.
“She loves her trees,” said Layer. “She just doesn’t want to walk out here every morning and see a swath of trees missing. It’s like a child to her. She doesn’t want to see it disturbed.”
According to Layer, Matthew began dealing with Sabal Trail this summer when she was approached by company surveyors wanting to access her land to look at possible routes for the pipeline.
At first Matthew balked, but after discussing the situation with Layer and learning that Sabal could eventually use eminent domain to seize part of the property for the pipeline construction, she decided to allow the survey.
In fact, said Layer, once the family began working with Sabal Trail, things have gone relatively smoothly. He even pointed out a situation where the company had originally planned cutting right through what amounts to Matthew’s front lawn, but through compromise, the owner was able to get the company to move the proposed route to a less intrusive portion of the property.
“He compromised with us,” Layer said of Sabal Trail Transmission’s right of way agent, Gil Norman. “Really, once we started dealing with them, he’s been very nice.”
Layer continued by saying once the route is finally determined, Sabal with have a 100 foot easement in which to construct and place the pipe. Once completed, that easement will shrink to 50 feet and the owner will have some limited use of the property.
In clearing the easement, the company will have to cut down nearly 40 acres of timber, something that will potentially disrupt the deer, quail and geese populations that call Matthew’s property home.
“I’m pretty sure they’ll buy the timber,” said Layer. “But it’ll still be a disruption. At the end of the day, she just doesn’t really want it here.”
Matthew and other concerned citizens might still have some time to negotiate an alternate path with Sabal Trail since nothing has been finalized.
For their part, company officials have not rejected the idea of changing the route. When told that residents were working on a proposal for an alternate route that would move the project farther west, away from the more populated area of the county, Sabal Trail spokesman Andrea Grover said the company would be open to discussion.
“We haven’t seen anything formal to date,” said Grover. “We have been told that they would like us to move it further west. We’re absolutely open to look at it. We just need to balance the environmental and stakeholder impact.”
Residents will have another opportunity to meet with Sabal Trail representatives in November when the company will host another open house, this time to discuss the possible construction of a compressor station in Dougherty County. A date for that forum has not been set.