VALDOSTA — Two representatives with Sabal Trail Transmission disputed complaints from property owners in correspondence with The Valdosta Daily Times and with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
Lisa Connolly, general manager of rates and certificates for Sabal Trail, said that letters sent to property owners should be read in a different light than was presented.
“A fair reading of these letters confirms Sabal Trail’s position that it has not threatened to institute proceedings against landowners to acquire proprerty by eminent domain and demonstrates that [Sandra Jones’s] allegations lack any substance,” Connolly wrote to FERC on Monday.
Jones had sent letters to FERC on Nov. 19, contending Sabal Trail had illegally threatened eminent domain against her.
The first letter, dated Sept. 16, 2013, written by Sabal’s Right of Way manager Kitty Maidens, requested permission to enter the land for survey purposes.
“Granting survey permission provides us only access to your property to complete the necessary survey activities,” Maidens wrote. “It does not authorize us to put a pipeline on your land.”
Connolly noted that Jones had declined to mention that in her filing with FERC.
The letter also stated that if the permission had not been granted by Aug. 28, Sabal Trail would enter the property anyway, “as provided for under Georgia statute, O.C.G.A. 22-3-88, to perform the necessary survey activities.”
O.C.G.A. 22-3-88 states that eminent domain may be exercised by individuals who “are or may be engaged in” building or running gas pipelines and by individuals who are furnishing gas to customers in Georgia.
The next letter, dated Oct. 18, 2013, and also written by Maidens, requested that Jones reconsider her denial of permission.
Maidens also implied that Jones not reconsidering would trigger some sort of legal action.
“We are making this final request in an effort to avoid the court process defined in these statutes or any other legal remedies available to the company,” Maidens wrote.
Maidens wrote again that the surveys did not authorize Sabal Trail to build a pipeline, and would not be used to imply support for the pipeline, a statement that Connolly said Jones also declined to mention.
The third letter, dated Nov. 26, 2013, came from Hunton & Williams, an Atlanta-based law firm representing Sabal Trail, and was written by Matthew Calvert, a partner with Hunton & Williams.
“Although you have previously declined to consent to the surveys, we respectfully request you reconsider your position,” Calvert wrote. “The purpose of this letter is to notify you that Sabal Trail intends to enter upon your property, as authorized by Georgia Law, and conduct the necessary surveys and examination of your property as described in the company’s earlier communication with you.”
Calvert also wrote that Georgia courts had established a legal precedence for Sabal’s actions, citing a number of court cases.
“However, please understand that this entry IS NOT TAKING OF ANY INTEREST IN YOUR PROPERTY,” Calvert wrote. “It is limited solely for the purpose of accessing your property for the survey activities previously described in Sabal Trail’s communications.”
Connolly wrote that Jones neglected to mention this too.
Connolly wrote that reviewing the correspondence shows that the references to O.C.G.A. 22-3-88 are to inform landowners of Sabal’s legal right to conduct surveys on land.
“The letters clearly confirm that Sabal Trail was only seeking permission to access Ms. Jones’s property for surveys and did not engage in threatening behavior of any kind,” Connolly wrote.
These sentiments were echoed by Andrea Grover, director of stakeholder outreach for Sabal Trail.
“I am quite confident that any objective reading of the letters will determine that the letters are intended to be informational and not threatening as suggested by a few people,” Grover wrote in an email on Monday. “The letters are a pro forma process developed to fully and transparently inform the remaining property owners who refused survey permission of the state law related to the survey process.”
Grover called the letters “a good faith effort” to seek permission to enter properties for the purpose of surveying the land.
According to Grover, these surveys determine resource impacts on the proposed route of the pipeline, “not the taking of any property.”
“These surveys are needed to fulfill Sabal Trail’s obligations to FERC, the Army Corps of Engineers, and other state environmental permitting agencies,” Grover wrote. “These letters were developed to take measured steps in explaining the reasons for the survey activities and then to explain the legal basis for Sabal Trail’s right to access property solely for survey purposes under Georgia state laws.”