The battle over the now controversial Palmetto Pipeline went before a judge in Fulton county Friday. The company Kinder Morgan has proposed building the 360 mile pipeline to transport gasoline and diesel products. The pipeline would connect to an existing company pipeline in Belton, South Carolina, run through Georgia and end in Jacksonville, Florida.
In May, the Georgia DOT Commissioner denied Kinder Morgan a certificate of need and necessity. But the company had no intention of taking no for an answer. It appealed the state’s decision, saying “we have more than adequately demonstrated that this project is in the best interests of Georgia’s consumers.”
The appeal was filed in Fulton County which is why a hearing was held there. “It is all about if Kinder Morgan, a private company should be allowed to take a private land owner’s land,” says Savannah Riverkeeper Tonya Bonitatibus.
An attorney representing four riverkeeper organizations and the Center for a Sustainable Coast won the right to join the State’s case. “So the environmental groups, the landowners and companies would stand on the side of the State and give more reasons why this permit denial should be upheld,” says Bonitatibus.
Allen Fore from Kinder Morgan told me a few weeks ago the company remains committed to the project. “We’ve always said we believe the project on its core is a good project, it provides additional refined product to those who need it,” he said. Fore says the pipeline is commercially supported and is in the best interests of Georgia’s consumers.
But Bonitatibus points to the unpopularity of the project saying it’s forced a public relations push from Kinder Morgan. In recent months, we have seen at least two television commercials featuring supportive landowners. The company has also made several sizable donations to area high schools and given $20,000 to the City of Savannah for its litter campaign. Fore told us at the time that Kinder Morgan has always had a positive presence in the community and was taking more opportunities to “define itself instead of letting others do it.”
Fore has also told us on several occasions that the company now has over 80 percent of landowners who are allowing them survey permission. Bonitatibus asserted that’s because the company is now sweetening the pot for landowners.”Well, they’ve started paying people for surveys, they didn’t do that before. So they’re really trying to use the power of money to gain influence in Georgia,” says Bonitatibus.
The riverkeeper says in addition to property rights, environmental groups have serious concerns about the route of the pipeline which would “go through all of the rivers and through a huge amount of wetlands and that’s incredibly important because these things serve and the liver and kidney (filtration) systems of the rivers especially when you talk about the Savannah, the way we use that river so industrially. So those wetlands are key to maintaining the health and viability of the river.”
The judge in Fulton County could take up to 30 days to issue a decision. A “no” to Kinder Morgan would certainly make it more difficult to proceed with the project although the company could certainly continue its efforts.
Kinder Morgan wrote to us in an email after the hearing “Kinder Morgan is pleased to have had our day in Court regarding the Palmetto Pipeline project. We continue to believe in the viability of this project and its economic benefits to consumers in the Southeast region and Georgia, in particular. We will continue to foster an open dialogue with communities and landowners along the proposed pipeline rights-of-way and share information about the project as it progresses.”