“We’ve attracted a lot of attention here and we can always do a better job of explaining what we’re doing and how we’re doing it,” Allen Fore from Kinder Morgan tells me. “But we’re going to be working very hard on that over the next several months and we believe what we have is a project that at the end of the day is good for the state of Georgia.”
Fore is the company’s vice president for public affairs and he’s well versed on facts and figures regarding the importance of the Palmetto pipeline, the project planned through three states, including Georgia. The pipeline would run 360 miles starting in Belton, South Carolina, through the entire state of Georgia and then to Florida, ending in Jacksonville. It would carry gasoline, diesel and ethanol.
The day we talk there’s been word that three surveyors that work for a company hired by Kinder Morgan, are being charged with trespass in Screven County. Sheriff Mike Kile says the three (Darrell Alexander, Emmett Horn and Barry Gilgore) went on private land to survey for the pipeline without permission. The three are charged with a misdemeanor and set to appear in court in June or July.
Fore is clear in his concerns. “We need to have their permission before our surveyors go on to property and if in this particular case they didn’t have permission that was wrong,” he says.
Still, he says the company’s history in Georgia in particular is one of cooperation with landowners. “I think you look at the balance of our relationship with landowners and in the vast majority of cases, our history with landowners has been good relationships. We’ve done business in Georgia for 60 years”
Fore says the company recently completed its Elba express line in this area and it was successful in negotiating with landowners. “We’ve been a good neighbor and we’re always striving to do better and that’s certainly the case here
Still, it’s no secret the Palmetto Pipeline project has set off a storm of concerns from environmental to landowner rights. One big issue is the idea that Kinder Morgan, if given approval for the project from state agencies, might be able to use eminent domain for its right of way. “Our plan is to not use eminent domain at all and very often we don’t even if we would be granted authority,” Fore says. “We don’t want to use it and hope we don’t have to use it.”
Still, he says he can’t promise it would not be used saying they do still need to meet with many landowners and finalize the route. While detailed maps have been released, Fore points out that the existing right of way may already have a power line or a railroad or the existing pipeline. “So there are instances where co-location next to an infrastructure may not be the best, most suitable route once we do a further inspection,” he says. “We did want to be as close to existing infrastructure as possible but that will be part of the survey process. Remember, each landowner will be paid if we in fact do have to locate on their property.”
Fore says they would pay fair market value after an assessment. When I point out I’ve heard from some landowners who don’t want to sell at any price, he acknowledges the fact. “Sure, and that will be part of a discussion and a dialog that we’ll have with them,” Fore says.
He also says the project is surrounded by rhetoric not fact. For example, he says if the Georgia Department of Transportation were to grant Kinder Morgan a certificate of need and necessity, it would be the beginning of the process not the end. “That’s just one part of the process (the DOT). There is another step to go through and that would be he state DNR,” he says. “So nothing ends with the DOT process, there would be an entirely separate environmental review that would have to be approved by the DNR.
In addition, he said there are significant permit requirements with two federal agencies (the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service). “So before a shovel of dirt can be moved, we’re talking about getting approval from several agencies.
Still, there seems to be confidence on the company’s part in the sense that a construction date has been set for next year. In terms of surveys, Fore says out of 1,000 landowners along the entire pipeline route (over 300 in Georgia) that ” we are actually doing very well with the survey permission. Over 80 percent of those we have been in contact with have given us permission to access the property.”
I do tell him I have not heard from any local landowners who want to provide Kinder Morgan access. “Here’s the thing. those who are satisfied generally aren’t speaking out,” he replied. .
Fore also wanted to talk about the worth of the project itself. “There’s a lot of talk about assisting us and that we’re a private company but when you talk about infrastructure, all of our energy infrastructure is private companies,” he told me.
He says the plan is that 50 to 60 percent of fuel that is sent from the pipeline would be sold in the local area after building a facility in Richmond Hill. “We’re trying to expand the delivery system across the country and currently to Savannah where there’s no pipeline access,” he said. “This is about ensuring long term supply for the consumer, not about Kinder Morgan,”
Critics have their doubts. Ogeechee Riverkeeper Emily Markestyn is worried because the proposed route would go under the Savannah and Ogeechee Rivers. “I am not convinced we need this and I know Georgia doesn’t need a mess like they’re dealing with right now in Belton, South Carolina,” she told me.
She’s referring to a leak on an existing Kinder Morgan pipeline in Belton. More than 250,000 gallons of gasoline leaked onto area farmland and clean up is still taking place about five months after the leak was discovered. Markestyn says in the Belton case the company “is able to haul away the contaminated soil.” But she says if a leak occurred locally that “you can’t haul away the wetlands or the water in the river.”
Fore told me that Kinder Morgan is following all criteria for clean up as required by the state of South Carolina and paying the cost. He says pipelines by and large remain the safest mode of transportation for fuel. “But that’s not to say that things don’t happen,” he told me.
Fore will be attending the second public hearing on the project set for Thursday evening in Waynesboro at the Augusta Technical College campus. He says he’s hoping people will listen to the plan and ask questions. If it’s anything like the first public hearing last month, there may be some booing as well.