Valdosta Daily Times

October 20, 2013

Lowndes residents oppose Fla. pipeline

Matthew Woody
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — Sabal Trail Transmission held an open house at Wiregrass Georgia Technical College last week to explain the Florida natural gas pipeline expected to run through South Georgia.

Sabal Trail had bulletin boards depicting aerial photos with the proposed 600-foot corridor mapped out with two red dotted lines running parallel to one another. In the center of these dotted lines, there was a brown line which highlighted an existing pipeline.

Sabal Trail initially proposed two routes called “Option A,” and “Option B.” Option B was a worst-case scenario route for Lowndes County because it split the county straight down the center. Sabal Trail has chosen to pursue the Option A route, which only intersects Lowndes on the lower westside of the county.

Andrea Grover, Spectra Energy public affairs representative, said that the pipeline has shifted more west to parallel an existing natural gas pipeline.

"Originally 'Option A' followed an existing overhead utility right-of-way, but now it has shifted more westward to follow an existing pipeline corridor. We wanted to move away from Valdosta city limits, now we're over 80 percent along an existing pipeline,” Grover said.

Sabal Trail Transmission is a joint venture of Spectra Energy Corp. and NextEra Energy Inc. In July, Sabal Trail was awarded a 465-mile interstate pipeline project by Florida Power & Light Company to transport more than 1 billion cubic feet per day beginning in Tallapoosa County, Ala., extending through Georgia, and ending at FPL's Central Florida Hub near Orlando. The gas will be transported through a 36-inch pipeline.

FPL wants the pipeline to be operational by 2017, so construction will begin in 2016. Trying to meet that deadline, Sabal Trail has already narrowed the route down to a 600-foot corridor. This is a survey corridor where the company will survey the entire route of the corridor, then it will narrow the placement of the pipe down a 100-foot construction corridor.

Property owners are concerned they will have two natural gas pipelines on their properties, as opposed to one.

One property owner was concerned because his 20-acre plot of land was in the middle of the corridor. During the meeting, he said, “I'm not too keen on sitting on top of another gas line; we already have one there.”

Another property owner was accompanied by her husband and her son-in-law, and she said that she felt as if she were being intimidated by the company.

She said, “It feels like they're telling us, 'either you accept this offer, or you'll get what you get,' and I don't appreciate that.”

Sabal Trail will have to be granted easement of the land to obtain a right-of-way before they can begin construction; they will have the right to use the land until they have finished installing the pipe and restoring the land. Then the land reverts back to its original landowner.

All property chosen by Sabal Trail will be appraised by an independent real estate appraiser provided by Spectra Energy, and based upon the appraiser’s market evaluation as well as other factors, they will determine the fair-market value to be used for negotiations, according to Spectra Energy's website.

Spectra Energy goes into every easement negotiation expecting that an agreement will be reached. However, in the event that an agreement cannot be reached, it can obtain the rights to easement by eminent domain through the Federal Natural Gas Act. Eminent domain will not be used as a negotiating tool, but only as a means of last resort, Spectra says.

Lowndes County Commissioner Demarcus Marshall was present at Wednesday's meeting. He told a few Lowndes County residents that the county would not support any eminent domain endeavors.

“The county took a stance that they will not be endorsing any of that company's actions. Myself, as well as other commissioners, are under the impression that it is up to the property owners to offer their property for the pipeline to come through. I haven't seen the letter yet, but I am hearing from some citizens that the letter is implying a threat, and that doesn't sit right with me,” Marshall said.