Georgia landowners fight eminent domain over pipeline

Marketplace Contributor May 18, 2015
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Georgia landowners fight eminent domain over pipeline

Marketplace Contributor May 18, 2015
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We’ve heard a lot about the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline over the last year or so. There are already more than two million miles of pipeline in the U.S., carrying natural gas, petroleum products and chemicals, right under our feet.

Now, a fight is raging over a new pipeline proposed for the Georgia coast. The company that wants to build the pipeline needs private land to do it, and it is asking the state for the right to use eminent domain.

That’s not sitting well with many landowners in the region, like Eddie Reddick, who owns a tree farm near the South Carolina border.

Eddie Reddick at his family's tree farm in Screven County. He says Kinder Morgan surveyors damaged some of his crop.

Eddie Reddick at his family’s tree farm in Screven County. He says Kinder Morgan surveyors damaged some of his crop.

“This tree will eventually die,” he says, picking up a small crooked tree by its trunk on his family’s 845-acre property in Screven County. A few weeks ago, surveyors for the energy company Kinder Morgan came out here, and Reddick says they drove over some of his young pine trees.

See, there’s a nice vigorous growing seedling, about 7-foot tall, that’s been run over,” he says. Now that tree and others in its row are bent over sideways, like long grass on a windy day. They’re all pointing in the same direction, toward a wooden stake with a pink ribbon fluttering at the top.

Here’s the first stake, and it says, ‘proposed pipeline,’ ” Reddick says .

Surveyors have begun laying out the route for the proposed pipeline.

Surveyors have begun laying out the route for the proposed pipeline.

This marks where the Palmetto Pipeline would travel through Reddick’s land.

It continues in a southerly direction through this young pine plantation, till we get to a wetland branch several hundred feet on down the line,” he says.

The energy company Kinder Morgan wants to build this 360-mile pipeline along the Savannah River and then down the coast, to Florida. It would split off from another bigger pipeline the company owns that carries gas from Gulf Coast refineries to the Northeast.

A map showing the route of the proposed Palmetto Pipeline.

A map showing the route of the proposed Palmetto Pipeline. 

Reddick says he thinks the pipeline would take about 4.5 acres of his farm permanently out of production. That’s a small amount of land for Reddick, but he says it’s the principal of the thing. 

“As a private landowner, [you] feel like you’re being run over,” Reddick says. 

But Allen Fore says this is about planning for the larger community’s needs. He’s a vice president with Kinder Morgan.

We’re looking at not just service now and what the needs are now in Georgia, but we’re trying to look at the next 20-30 years,” Fore says .

Savannah’s fuel comes from ships or trucks; Fore says a pipeline would be cheaper and more reliable.

Savannah in particular is one of the few areas that doesn’t have direct pipeline capacity,” Fore says.

It would cost a billion dollars to build the pipeline, and it would eventually carry about 150,000 barrels of fuel a day. Fore says all of the gas is for domestic use, not for export, and that Kinder Morgan will only use eminent domain where it has to.  

“Our use of that, if granted, is extremely rare,” Fore says. “Over 98 percent of properties are acquired by amicable resolution to the satisfaction of landowners. So we’re talking about a small, very small number.”

But a lot of landowners are upset about the idea. At a public hearing earlier this month, a couple hundred people turned out. There were environmentalists concerned about fragile wetlands, but the most vocal opponents were people angry about a private company taking their land.

: Most people at a public hearing in Waynesboro, Georgia, in early May opposed the use of eminent domain to build the Palmetto Pipeline.

Most people at a public hearing in Waynesboro, Georgia, in early May opposed the use of eminent domain to build the Palmetto Pipeline.

“My mama’s people, and my daddy’s people, been here since the 1700s,” said Jeff Mallard. “I don’t agree with eminent domain.”

But eminent domain serves a purpose, explains Peter Appel, law professor at the University of Georgia. The government uses it to build highways, post offices and parks. And, yes, states can grant it to private companies, too.

“People want to say this is my property, and you can’t have it, and the fact of the matter is, that’s not true,” he says. “A pipeline, similar to a railway line, is almost a classic case for when eminent domain makes sense.”

That’s because it’s going to serve the public by delivering gas, he says, and a pipeline’s route isn’t very flexible. Kinder Morgan can’t twist and turn around every landowner who doesn’t want to sell. But Appel says just because the pipeline is a good candidate for eminent domain doesn’t mean Georgia has to grant it.

It really is up to the government to decide, ‘Are we going to put our power behind this project?’ ” he says.

Gov. Nathan Deal came out against the plan earlier this month. But under Georgia law, it’s the commissioner of the Department of Transportation who makes the decision. The deadline for that decision is Tuesday. If the commissioner gives the green light, the project will then need to go through an environmental review.

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