Sabal Trail

VALDOSTA — A handful of residents in and around Valdosta let the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission know their disapproval of the Sabal Trail Pipeline Wednesday evening.

Complaints about the proposed pipeline ranged from environmental issues to concerns regarding the pipeline’s impact on the terrain as it relates to potential sinkholes.

Residents also questioned whether the area would benefit from the natural gas transported in the pipeline.

Activist Leigh Touchton took issue with the pipeline’s impact on the gopher tortoise, an endangered species.

“I wanted to point out that a lot of the land the pipeline wants to go through is the habitat for an endangered species called the gopher tortoise, which is a keystone species,” Touchton said. “Over 400 mammals, birds, insects, amphibians and reptiles use the tortoise’s burrows. This is really unique to South Georgia, and they are considered a keystone species because so many of them depend on them for habitat.”

Touchton said she talked to a landowner who grows pine trees, who said Sabal representatives would remove the gopher tortoise and the indigo snake, which coexist with the gopher tortoise.

“As a biologist, I just want to tell you that’s crazy,” Touchton said. “You’re going to destroy an ecosystem, you’re going to destroy not only a couple of species, but over 400 others.”

Touchton said the county would have no benefit from the pipeline.

“Yet, if there is anexplosion, it’s our first responders that have to go there,” Touchton said. “I sit on one of the Valdosta Police Department’s boards, and our people are tasked with enough as it is. It’s not fair to make our first responders also be responsible for a giant explosion. It’s not fair, we’re not going to receive anything but negative repercussions from this.”

Karen Noll echoed Touchton’s comments.

“If you look at it from a narrow view as Leigh already mentioned, it brings us unwanted risk to our community and to the landowners, and it brings us no benefits,” Noll said. “We really do not need a three-foot pipeline that brings natural gas to Florida. We don’t gain from that.”

Noll said the pipeline brings added risk of environmental problems that could negatively impact the community.

“The pipeline is a duplicate of a smaller pipeline that already runs through the area,” Noll said, “so we’re doubling down on this particular area with more risk of leakage, explosion, groundwater contamination, and as a last point, which I find particularly disturbing, this pipeline also is a part of an extraction industry that disregards the Clean Water act, the Clean Air act, and those communities are negatively impacted north and west where the natural gas is extracted.”

Noll said she would not be in favor of negatively impacting other communities for natural gas.

Deborah Johnson of Suwannee County, Fla., spoke of the safety record of Spectra Energy, the parent company of Sabal Trail.

“Spectra Energy has what is considered one of the worst histories of EPA violations concerning spills involving toxins such as PCBs, pipeline mismanagement and more,” Johnson said. “Recently, on May 31, 2015, an explosion of a Spectra Energy pipeline took place in the Arkansas River. Spectra said they would monitor this pipeline 24 hours per day, seven days per week for explosions, ruptures, leaks, etc. They did not even know about the Arkansas pipeline rupture until 24 hours later when a tow boat operator reported the damage to his boat.”

John Quarterman spoke of sinkholes that could result from the construction of Sabal Trail and what it could mean for water wells or water sinks.

“I’m sure everyone around here has heard of the Shiloh Road sinkhole and the Snake Nation Road Sinkhole that the county had to spend around $500,000 to fix,” Quarterman said. “If the pipeline drilling under the Suwannee River or the Withlacoochee River were to cause a sinkhole, it could have an effect on we don’t really know whose wells or where else.”

John Peconom, FERC project manager for the Southeast Markets Pipelines project, which Sabal is part of, said the meeting was to acquire comments for the environmental impact of the pipeline, potentially to decide if the pipeline is built or not. All comments were recorded by a FERC reporter at the meeting.

Joe Adgie is a reporter for the Valdosta Daily Times.

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