County Attorney Spencer Lee updates the Dougherty County Commission on the Sabal Trail natural gas pipeline expected to go through the county during Monday’s commission work session. (Staff photo: Carlton Fletcher)
ALBANY — County Attorney Spencer Lee told the Dougherty County Commission Monday morning that the “ballgame has changed” on the proposed 465-mile Sabal Trail natural gas pipeline project that is expected to go through a portion of Dougherty County.
Lee told the commission the project, which is expected to originate in Tallapoosa County, Ala., pass through Southwest Georgia and terminate in Osceola County, Fla., is now in the hands of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the agency that will eventually approve the pathway of the pipeline, which will have the capacity to transmit a billion cubic feet of natural gas per day.
“To this point, the involvement with the pipeline and all questions have been directed to Sabal Trail and Spectra Energy,” Lee told the board. “The next step in the process is a letter of intent from FERC, so now questions will be directed to that agency.
“The question I’m hearing most is can (project officials) take my land? If the pipeline is certified by FERC, the answer is yes, through the process of imminent domain.”
Lee said the first of three federal energy regulatory hearings will most likely be held in Albany around March 3, although that date is not official at this time. Other hearings will likely be scheduled in Valdosta and Moultrie.
Lee recommended that the commission draft a letter of its primary concerns about the pipeline and present it to federal officials at the energy regulatory hearing.
“At that time, every comment about the pipeline becomes a part of the record and should be considered (by FERC) as it makes a ruling,” the county attorney said. “For instance, Sabal is supposed to analyze every piece of property to determine if center-pivot irrigation is used on the land. If it is, the property owner has a right to ask that the pipeline that will carry the natural gas be buried as deep as 60 inches rather than the 30-36 inches generally required.
“If Sabal has not addressed that issue with a property owner, he or she has a right to bring it up at the federal meeting.”
County Commission Chairman Jeff Sinyard asked for, and received, a concensus from commissioners on preparing a letter to federal officials that clearly states the county’s primary concerns.
“We have made it clear that we are in favor of the route that is least invasive to our citizens,” Sinyard said. “And we want to know that every measure will be taken to assure the safety of our property owners.”
District 1 Commissioner Lamar Hudgins, who said he had asked Spectra officials to consider an alternate route that bypasses Dougherty County, mentioned that the location of a compressor building in Dougherty County is a concern that will not impact other Georgia communities along the proposed pipeline route.
“That is our third primary concern,” Sinyard said. “We want to know the dangers this element poses.”
District 5 Commissioner Gloria Gaines said the board should press FERC to consider alternative pipeline routes that bypass Dougherty County.
“I’m sure much of their argument will involve cost,” Gaines said. “But it can’t be just about money.”
Lee reminded the commission that it can do little legislatively to alter the pipeline approval process.
“Federal laws pre-empt state and local laws,” he said. “So the county does not have the authority to adopt any ordinance regulating the pipeline.”