Valdosta Daily Times

June 30, 2013

Massive pipeline project may cross Lowndes

Landowners share concerns

Jason Schaefer
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — Sabal Trail Transmission, LLC, a pipeline company owned by Houston-based Spectra Energy Corp, has contacted the City of Valdosta, Lowndes County and several residents regarding plans to build a massive interstate natural gas pipeline project.

The proposed pipeline will extend 465 miles from Anniston, Ala., traveling across Georgia (including Lowndes County) and terminating in Orlando, Fla. The project was proposed by Florida Power and Light Company (FPL) to provide dedicated natural gas services by May 2017.

Residents in Valdosta and across south Georgia have been informed of the project via letter and phone requests to survey private and public property for the construction of the pipeline. While 70 percent of the route will parallel existing right-of-way such as power lines, according to the company’s web site,  portions of it will cross private property.

While FPL has not officially awarded the contract for the project to Sabal Trail, the pipeline company

anticipates winning the contract by mid-July, and to begin the project soon after. The company has initiated these survey projects to meet scheduling requirements, which includes contacting landowners in the county, not all of whom are excited at the prospect of a pipeline on their property.



Residents concerned

In spite of the enormous scope of the project, at least one resident in Lowndes County is more worried than excited. Sabal Trail requested permission to survey land owned by Lowndes County Lamar Cameron, 84, who has no plans to acquiesce.

“I haven’t given them permission yet,” Cameron said. “I said I didn’t want him on my property. I don’t want him or anyone else on my property.”

Cameron’s greatest concerns are his personal safety, the security of his property, liability and certain endangered species he claims live in the wetlands portions of his land.

Sabal Trail plans to survey a corridor up to 600 feet wide during the design stages of the project, and will narrow the corridor to about 100 feet when the plans are complete, according to the web site.

Cameron believes this is too great a request, given that he already has other utilities crossing his land, he said.

“I don’t need some young squirt coming through and onto my land,” Cameron said. “I think I’ve had enough of giving people land and giving them an easement.”

To multiply his concern, the caller explained to Cameron that when the project is complete, Sabal Trail may elect to build branch pipelines from the main artery that would cross his property as well.

“You mean to tell me that you can go somewhere else on my land?” Cameron asked the caller, he said. “How many ditches are they going to dig before they get through with all their stuff?”

Other residents bordering his property were contacted as well, Cameron said. The letter states, “We believe this project will benefit the Southeast region by making available more natural gas supply and the new pipeline transportation facilities necessary to support the needs of other regional power generators.”

The City of Valdosta and Lowndes County were also notified by mail. The Valdosta-Lowndes County Industrial Authority was contacted with requests to survey a piece of land owned by the Authority.



County, City, Authority respond

Lowndes County Board of Commissioners Chairman Bill Slaughter spoke at the County’s regular session Tuesday night about the issue, informing the public of the efforts made by Sabal Trail to make contact with area residents, and addressing a number of telephone calls fielded from those residents.

“Lowdnes County has been notified as well as all the governmental entities impacted by this project,” Slaughter said. “Lowndes County does not benefit from this proposal and has no responsibility for the approval other than that of a property owner potentially impacted by the proposed route.”

City Manager Larry Hanson received word of the project by mail Tuesday, he said. The letter appears to simply inform the City that the project may be happening—that it is still “speculative.”

“There are a lot of questions to be answered,” Hanson said. “Naturally, if it’s in our right-of-way, then we will have an active role in negotiations. There are all sorts of public and private utilities located in public right-of-ways, and we will manage that to ensure compatibility. There’s a lot of detail that has to be discussed.”

Hanson called the project “unprecedented,” but said he is sure “something about it makes economic sense.” Pipelines are common in the Midwest, but he still believes Sabal Trail’s is a “unique request.”

According to the map the City received along with the mailer, it appears the pipeline could extend mostly through the north portion of the County, possibly crossing Bemiss Road and passing near the water treatment plant in Freedom Park.

The City currently has natural gas infrastructure, but nothing of this magnitude, Hanson said.

Authority Executive Director Andrea Schruijer believes it is a little premature to announce plans for negotiation or opinions about the project, she said, but shared that the Authority would likely seek to cooperate with Sabal Trail.

“We own a tract of land, and they want to survey it,” Schruijer said. “They made no announcements of coming to Valdosta. We’ve been contacted just like individual land owners to survey our property.”

Sabal Trail made the request to survey 22 acres near Mud Creek, a tract owned by the Industrial Authority. Due to the Authority’s interest in bringing industry to Valdosta, Schruijer predicts the board will be in favor of the project.

“We’ll give them permission,” Schruijer said. “Why wouldn’t we?”

Schruijer added that the Board must first discuss the issue and vote before making any final decisions. She emphasized that projects of this size will take considerable research, time and effort to complete.

“They will need to look at elevations, topos, soil types; they will look at all that stuff before they do something in the area,” Schruijer said.

Once the surveying phase is complete, the company will determine its next steps to gain access to the land it requires, whether that means easements, purchasing the land or some other transaction, Schruijer explained.

Regarding requests for access from private landowners, the company will have to negotiate with those individuals directly, Schruijer said, or else find an alternative route.

“This is something that may take a while,” Schruijer said.