Matt Layer, a resident of Dougherty County, asks Spectra Energy officials about the proposed multi-state gas pipeline that is planned. The pipeline would go through Layer’s land. (Staff photo: Carlton Fletcher)
ALBANY — Dougherty County officials got their first official briefing Monday on the 465-mile Sabal Trail natural gas pipeline that is projected to run under a 21-mile stretch of the county.
Brian Fahrenthold, the state and local government affairs director for Houston-based Spectra Energy, assured commissioners and landowners impacted by the pipeline that his company will “meet or exceed all safety standards” required by federal officials during construction of the $3 billion project that will, when completed, send 1 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day into Florida from central Alabama.
“We’re in the early rows of activity right now, and this is a marathon,” Fahrenthold said. “We operate close to 19,000 miles of pipeline in the United States, and we have an outstanding safety record. Almost 15 percent of the natural gas used in the United States flows through our system.”
Fahrenthold answered questions from commissioners and from members of the public during a lengthy public hearing, assuring those gathered at the downtown Government Center Spectra is open to any pipeline route alterations that are viable.
“We keep hearing that there is an alternate route being proposed by some (landowners) in the community, but we haven’t seen it,” Fahrenthold said. “If there is such a route proposal, we’re open to it.”
The Spectra official drew the ire of District 5 Commissioner Gloria Gaines when he spoke of the “beautiful homes in Commissioner (Ewell) Lyle’s district” that the company had chosen to bypass with its pipeline route through Dougherty County.
“My district’s south of the (Southwest Georgia Regional) airport,” Gaines said. “Did you find less desirable homes in that area? I’d like to make sure that the beauty of the homes is not a consideration when you’re making a decision on the route this pipeline will take.”
Fahrenthold told Gaines he only had taken a ride along a section of Lyle’s district after arriving in Albany the night before and told her: “All homes are equal in my estimation.”
Fahrenthold told commissioners Spectra would not file an application to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission until all surveys had been completed and regulatory requirements met. He said that would probably come some time in the fourth quarter of 2014. With FERC approval, right-of-way agreements would be completed at some time in the first quarter of 2016. Construction would then be scheduled to begin, some time in the third quarter of 2016, with testing in early 2017 and operations to start in May 2017.
“What we are bringing to you at this stage is a proposal only,” Fahrenthold said. “The FERC will determine the actual route. According to our proposed timeline, it will be three years from today before we ever put a shovel in the ground.”
Four Dougherty County citizens — Dinorah Hall, B.J. Fletcher, Matt Layer and Robbie Barkley — expressed concerns ranging from environmental issues, safety procedures, local job creation, wildlife habitat and the location of a large compresser used to force the natural gas along the pipeline.
“We usually have a compressor station every 100 miles or so,” Fahrenthold said. “And, yes, according to our latest model, there would be a compressor in this area. But we would make every effort to locate the compressor in a rural area, as far away from residential areas as possible.”
Fahrenthold said cost of the pipeline is estimated at $6 million a mile and is expected to go up.
“So, you can see, while that’s not the primary concern, it does enter into the equation,” he said.
Also at Monday’s meeting, Wells Fargo Insurance Services Senior Vice President Spencer Allen recommended that the county leave employee premium costs at their current level.
“If we do that, it could — and I stress could — cost the county around $67,000 to $68,000,” Allen said. “But I don’t think that will happen. Plus, the county actually has a fund balance at this time of around $380,000, and any additional funding needed for increases would come from that fund balance, not from the county’s general fund.”