Bill Hitchens knows a lot about Effingham County and its history of land ownership. “Some people here have had land in their family since the 1700’s and they’ve vowed never to sell it and they sure don’t want any of it taken from them,” he says.
Hitchens is from Rincon and represents District 161 in the Georgia Statehouse. For months the controversy over the Palmetto Pipeline has been brewing which prompted him to sponsor HB 1036, a bill that would place a moratorium on pipeline projects until the end of June of 2017.
He was committed to his legislation and hoped others would see his point, but the overwhelming support surprised him. “I had the sense we were going to be okay but then we took the vote and it was 165 to 2,” he told me.
The proposed pipeline is a 360 mile project that would run through Georgia, the largest portion in Effingham county. “But it’s not just Effingham County objecting,” Hitchens said.
“Legislators from Augusta down the Savannah River to Camden County are opposed to this. I’ve never seen that unanimity about issues in the past except for maybe the spill in the Ogeechee River.”
Hitchens says in the tragedy on the Ogeechee River, the public “wanted government leaders to do something, but there was nothing we could do at that point, the damage had been done.”
That’s why he says protecting coastal areas from a potential pipeline spill before it happens is important to him. “So that’s what Tuesday is going to be all about is trying to put in place a moratorium on environmental issues,” he says.
On Tuesday, the bill he sponsored will come back with changes from the Senate. He’s hopeful the House will approve those changes which include a state appointed study committee reviewing any pipeline project.
He says the issue of Kinder Morgan (the company planning the pipeline) possibly using eminent domain triggered the outrage but that concerns about the environment should raise a red flag as well.
Kinder Morgan representatives told us recently they continue to pursue the project and if necessary will do so without eminent domain which would require the company to secure easements from landowners voluntarily. “We continue to believe this is an important project for the region in terms of the availability
of gasoline and diesel,” said Allen Fore of Kinder Morgan.