A map provided by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission shows the proposed 460-mile pathway of the Sabal Trail transmission pipeline, which will transmit natural gas from Alabama to Florida. (Special illustration)
ALBANY — For those in the region who feel the planned 460-mile Sabal Trail transmission pipeline, which will transport natural gas from Tallapoosa County, Ala., to Osceola County, Fla., has no impact on them, involvement by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in the pipeline’s permitting process is simply the next step.
For those who oppose the pipeline, though, and for others who have a vested interest in the project’s progress, involvement by FERC means a decision on the pipeline’s path is imminent.
FERC officials will hold the first of 13 “public scoping meetings” Monday at Albany’s Hilton Garden Inn, offering interested “stakeholders” an opportunity to learn more about the agency’s environmental review process and providing an opportunity for interested parties to weigh in on concerns about the pipeline, which is expected to pass through Stewart, Webster, Terrell, Lee, Dougherty, Mitchell, Colquitt, Brooks and Lowndes counties in Georgia.
“The scoping process will be used to gather input about the SMP Project (the Southeast Market Pipelines Project, which includes Sabal Trail) from the public and other interested stakeholders,” FERC Secretary Kimberly Bose said in an official release. “Affected landowners and other interested parties are encouraged to attend the scoping meetings and give their comments on the issues they believe should be addressed in the EIS (Environmental Impact Statement).”
Monday’s meeting, which will start at 6 p.m., is one of three planned in Georgia. The others will be held Tuesday at 6 p.m. at the Holiday Inn Conference Center in Valdosta and Wednesday at 6 p.m. at the Veterans Parkway Conference Center at Moultrie Technical College’s Facility Building A. Three scoping meetings are planned in Alabama and seven in Florida from March 10 to March 27. The scoping period will end April 20.
Dougherty County Attorney Spencer Lee gave county commissioners a copy at their most recent meeting of a letter he plans to hand-deliver to FERC officials at Monday’s meeting. In it, he wrote, “On behalf of the citizens of our community, our board will continue (a) to closely monitor the pre-application, scoping and post-application process, (b) provide input to FERC … regarding Dougherty County public interests and (c) facilitate communication … of issues relative to the interests of Dougherty County citizens.”
Lee reiterated the commission’s stated concerns on behalf of the county’s citizens, which he noted had been expressed in a letter sent to officials with project principals Spectra Energy and Sabal Trail.
Lee said the letter requested that officials managing the pipeline construction “(1) follow all federal, state and local rules, regulations and guidelines; (2) notify both the (commission) and affected landowners of any and all public hearings and required government filings; (3) … consider all reasonable alternative locations for both the pipelines and compressor station (expected to be located in Dougherty County), and (4) keep the board and public fully informed through transparency and verification of all public hearings and company filings.”
Lee said the commission’s preference is for the Sabal Trail pipeline to be assigned an alternate route that would take it “either out of Dougherty County or out of the state of Georgia altogether.”
A number of citizens and landowners who have concerns about the pipeline have petitioned for an alternate route as well. Jon Gosa of Albany is one of them.
“What I really hope (FERC) will do is take a close look at the track record of this company (Spectra Energy),” Gosa said Wednesday. “In the time they’ve been planning this pipeline through our community, they have had three major explosions in Oklahoma, Manitoba, Canada, and, I believe, Nebraska. And everyone should be horrified by the explosion a few years ago in San Bruno, Calif., that killed seven people and left a path of devastation.
“And there’s a lawsuit in Pennsylvania, I believe, in which one of the company’s pipelines went through a farmer’s land and now his cattle and crops are dying. Throw in the fact that there’s a compressor station planned in Dougherty County, and you see that this is a dangerous project. Those pump stations use hydraulic infusion wells that will give (Spectra) access to our water system. I’m concerned that this is just another fracking technology that puts our pristine aquifer system at risk.”
Gosa said his wife’s family is among landowners in the area where the pipeline is expected to run.
“In a lot of cases, the land this company is taking by imminent domain is land that has been in families for generations,” he said. “I don’t believe our government or a for-profit company should have the right to come in and take a 100-foot swath through our land. These companies sell it to the government as ‘important to our future energy reserves,’ then turn around and tell their stockholders it’s going to line their pockets.
“This is something that impacts all of us in this region. When you have explosions, there is collateral damage well beyond the pathway of the pipeline. It’s something we all should be concerned about. I would expect (County Commissioner) Gloria Gaines to question this project because it’s coming through the area close to where she lives.”
In addition to the 460 miles of pipeline, the Sabal Trail project is expected to include five compressor stations, the one planned in Dougherty County inclusive. The more-than-$3 billion pipeline, which is expected to go online May 1, 2017, would have an initial capacity to deliver 800,000 dekatherms of natural gas per day. That capacity would increase to 1.1 million dekatherms per day by 2021.
FERC’s Environmental Impact Study, according to Bose’s release, will look at separate impacts on geology and soils; water resources (surface and groundwater); wetlands; vegetation, fisheries and wildlife; threatened and endangered species; land use; socioeconomics; cultural resources; air quality and noise; public safety and reliability, and cumulative impact.
The public may comment on the project to www.ferc.gov, at firstname.lastname@example.org, by calling (202) 502-8258 or by mailing them to Bose at Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, 888 First Street NE, Room 1A, Washington, D.C. 20426.