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Local opposition to natural gas pipeline persists

Meeting set at Darton to discuss $3 billion Sabal Trail project

Dinorah Hall, left, and Gloria Gaines have facilitated several community meetings to discuss the impact of the Sabal Trail natural gas pipeline that is expected to run through a portion of Dougherty County. (Herald file photo)

Dinorah Hall, left, and Gloria Gaines have facilitated several community meetings to discuss the impact of the Sabal Trail natural gas pipeline that is expected to run through a portion of Dougherty County. (Herald file photo)

ALBANY — Dougherty County Commission Chairman Jeff Sinyard’s question at that board’s most recent meeting resounds throughout the community as the Sabal Trail natural gas pipeline moves inexorably through the regulatory process.

“Why put a compressor station in the most populous area along the proposed pipeline route?” Sinyard said during a discussion of the proposed $3 billion pipeline that is expected to run through a portion of Dougherty County on its way from central Alabama to central Florida. “That’s what I don’t get.”

And while there is a large number of property owners and environmental activists who are concerned about the impact of the pipeline in general, the compressor station has become the primary focus of local Sabal Trail opponents as federal and state agencies consider Spectra Energy’s plan to construct the 464-mile pipeline that could carry up to 1 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day, gas that would be used to provide energy for north and central Florida.

Authorization for the pipeline will ultimately come from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Seven compressor stations, which are strategically located along the pipeline to push gas through the system, are part of the Sabal Trail plan, and the only one scheduled to be located in Georgia is proposed for land just off Newton Road in southwest Dougherty County. That’s what has Sinyard and others so concerned.

“That compressor station runs constantly, and it is basically the sound of a jet engine running 24/7,” Gloria Gaines, who has helped facilitate a number of public meetings to encourage residents to oppose the pipeline, said at a recent gathering. “But what is more alarming is that it will be located dangerously close to the Water, Gas & Light Commission’s well field, which supplies water throughout the city.”

There are other concerns as well.

“The pollutants from those compressor stations have been directly linked to illneses such as cancer,” property owner Dinorah Hall said. “This is not speculation, it’s medical fact.

“There is too much at stake with this pipeline. Once the balance has been disturbed, it can’t be restored.”

Gaines, Hall and Dougherty Commissioner John Hayes have coordinated regular community meetings to discuss the potential dangers of the pipeline and to circulate petitions asking that Sabal Trail’s proposed route not be approved. Democratic District 4 County Commission candidate Patrick Garner, who is challenging incumbent Republican Ewell Lyle in the Nov. 4 general election, has scheduled a similar meeting at Darton State College’s Room B-101 Friday to discuss pipeline issues.

Garner, who defeated Tracy Taylor in the May 20 Democratic primary to advance to the general election, made opposition to the pipeline one of his three primary campaign issues.

“This is not a political rally,” Garner said of the meeting scheduled from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. Friday at Darton. “This is my contribution to community efforts to get information out about the pipeline. I haven’t heard of one being held in District 4, so I reserved space at Darton to hold a meeting.”

Garner is an assistant professor of English at the west Albany college.

“It’s important that the people in our community act before the bulldozers move in and start tearing up the land,” Garner continued. “One of the things I want to talk about at this meeting is what citizens can be doing. We’ll also discuss which parcels of land in the county will be disrupted, and the environmental and economic impact the pipeline will have on Dougherty County.”

County Attorney Spencer Lee said at Monday’s Dougherty Commission meeting that he has sent the fifth letter of concern to state and federal regulatory agencies on behalf of the commission. Hayes, meanwhile, said such noted celebrities as Ted Turner and Jim Fowler have also sent letters opposing the pipeline.

“My understanding is that (Spectra) has purchased 79 acres of property (along Newton Road), apparently for the compressor station,” Lee said. “And they bought the land prior to regulatory approval, so it appears they’re confident the process will come out in their favor.”

The organization Natural Gas Watch indicated on its website that Spectra Energy has been cited by federal regulators for 17 recent inadequacies in its pipeline safety operations and procedures.

Spectra spokeswoman Andrea Grover said in a conversation with The Albany Herald’s Editorial Board that neither the pipeline nor the compressor station poses danger to local residents. “We’ve taken every precaution to make sure this project is safe,” she said.

The watchdog group BrowardBulldog.org revealed in the Miami Herald in July that Florida Gov. Rick Scott owned a stake in Houston-based Spectra, an apparent violation of Florida law that prohibits public officials from owning stock in businesses subject to state regulation.

Scott signed two laws in May and June of 2013 designed to speed up permitting for the Sabal Trail project. Five months later, the five-member Florida Public Service Commission — all appointed by Scott — unanimously approved construction of the proposed pipeline.