Former Dougherty County Commissioner Gloria Gaines addresses U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Albany, at left, and other members of the panel at a listening session on the proposed Sabal Trail gas pipeline that would come through Dougherty County. Panel members shown are Dougherty County Attorney Spencer Lee, center, and District 4 Commissioner Ewell Lyle. (Staff photo: Jim West)
ALBANY — A listening session on a planned natural gas pipeline that would come through Dougherty County attracted a mix of property owners, group representatives and lawyers Thursday to the Government Center on Pine Avenue.
Of the 50 who attended, several took the opportunity to air concerns and suggest possible remedies to the proposed Sabal Trail Transmission Gas Pipeline project and a planned accompanying compressor station. The pipeline would transport up to a billion cubic feet of natural gas each day through portions of Dougherty County.
The panel comprised U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Albany; Dougherty County Commissioners John Hayes, Clinton Johnson and Lamar Hudgins; former County Commissioner Gloria Gaines, and County Attorney Spencer Lee.
Gaines said earlier that Bishop was called upon by Johnson, Hayes and her to discuss the proposed pipeline, which is intended to pass through about 24 miles in Dougherty County as part of its 465-mile route from central Alabama to central Florida. The natural gas carried by the pipeline is intended to be utilized by Florida Power and Light to provide electricity for a large portion of that state.
Melvin George, the first county resident to address the panel, was concerned about the “unusual” geological makeup of Dougherty County and the potential danger to the underground aquifers if the pipeline were to leak.
Citing the large number of sink holes in the area, George said, “The soil here is not stable. The pipe that Sabal will use is 36 inches in diameter. That’s a big pipe.”
George said that information he has obtained on the project has the large compressor station to be located on Newton Road “less than one mile” from wells and water tanks on Lily Pond Road.
“We have the right to stand our ground and protect our land,” George said, voicing his opposition to the proposed pipeline and the eminent domain issues that would give Sabal Trail the right to complete the project.
Gary Hall, representing Kiokee-Flint, a watch group for the the Flint River and other water systems, agreed with George that Dougherty County’s geology is too unsuitable for the pipeline project, He also contended that the massive pumping station would be dangerous to the community.
“This is a huge machine pumping 24-hour-a-day air pollution,” Hall said, “especially carbon dioxide. I think (Sabal Trail) needs to be in a more remote location with more trees to absorb (the gas), and not around schools, houses and people.”
Hall said that Spectra Energy Corp., Sabal Trail’s parent company, has refused to reroute the project “even one mile,” claiming cost considerations that Hall said would be “peanuts” compared to the energy company’s profits of “at least” $350 Million over 10 years.
Some of those attending the meeting accused Spectra officials of dragging their feet in providing maps or requested pipeline information in what the company’s critics said was an attempt to run out the “scoping” deadline — the period in which stakeholders and technical experts are allowed to apply their resources toward investigating critical issues.
While the scoping process is scheduled to expire on Sunday, Bishop said he’s received legal advice and assistance from GreenLaw, a nonprofit Georgia-based law firm concerned with environmental issues, to ask for a 30-day extension from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which regulates the interstate transportation and transmission energy.
“I think the time is perhaps much too compressed to get adequate answers, so we’re trying to support the people in the community in getting more time,” Bishop said. “The government is like an octopus, and this is only one arm of the government. But I want this arm to be one that responds on behalf of the people.
“Of course, I want to listen so I can be armed with information and be the advocate.”
Bishop said residents could voice their opinions about the proposed pipeline by mail, telephone or electronically. The contact information Bishop listed includes:
MAIL: Kimberly D. Bose, Secretary of Federal Energy Regulatory Commission; 888 First Street N.E., Room 1A; Washington, DC, 20414;
PHONE: (202) 502-8258.