Georgia Transportation Commissioner Russell McMurry issued his decision Tuesday, denying Kinder Morgan a certificate that would have given the company power to force the sale of easements of private land to build the Palmetto Pipeline.
“It is noted that my review of this matter is focused on whether the pipeline would be a public convenience and necessity,” McMurry wrote in his decision letter.
Kinder Morgan, a major Texas-based energy corporation, proposes to spend about $1 billion to build a 360-mile pipeline to carry gasoline, diesel fuel and fuel-grade ethanol from its existing pipeline at Belton, South Carolina, to Jacksonville, Florida, with distribution terminals near Augusta and Savannah. Over much of the route, the company needs a 50-foot right of way easement to bury the pipeline.
The 210 miles of the route through Georgia would include 39 miles in Screven County, according to the proposal.
Under a Georgia law, a certificate of public convenience from the Georgia Department of Transportation is required before a company can use eminent domain. That power, otherwise reserved for governments, allows a company to resort to the courts to force intransigent landowners to either accept a negotiate price or one determined by the court.
The specific state law “does not empower me to consider the environmental effects of the project, or to review whether pre-existing easements and rights of way should be utilized,” McMurry wrote.
Instead, with little in the law to guide him about what a public convenience and necessity is, McMurry looked at whether existing pipelines and fuel-distribution systems are adequate to meet public needs and anticipated demand, he wrote.
For the specific project, Kinder Morgan applied through a Georgia limited liability corporation, Palmetto Products Pipe Line LLC.
“In this instance, my conclusion is that there is substantial evidence that the construction of the proposed pipeline will not constitute a public convenience and necessity,” McMurry concluded. “Accordingly, Palmetto’s application is denied.”
The proposed pipeline would cross under the Savannah River near Augusta, follow a route near that river in Screven and Effingham counties, and cross under the Ogeechee River in Bryan County. Savannah Riverkeeper, Ogeechee Riverkeeper, Altamaha Riverkeeper, the Georgia Sierra Club and other environmental groups are part of a Push Back the Pipeline Coalition. Beginning two weeks ago, Gov. Nathan Deal also voiced opposition to the project.
“We are very happy with DOT's decision and we thank Commissioner McMurry as well as Governor Deal for responding to the people's wishes,” Savannah Rivekeeper Tonya Bonitatibus said Monday in a Push Back the Pipeline press release.
In McMurry’s own news statement about his decision, McMurry noted that “numerous public comments” had been heard in seven public meetings held by the company as well as two public hearings held by the Georgia DOT, and that the department received approximately 3,000 public comments online and by mail.
In a Monday interview with the Statesboro Herald, Kinder Morgan Vice President of Public Affairs Allen Fore said that the company would appeal if McMurry denied the certificate and will move forward with other permitting processes. The law allows for an appeal to a county superior court.
“We believe we have a project that’s good for Georgia and meets the needs of the statutory requirements that are set out, that we are following to the best of our ability, and if that involves an appeal, if that involves having the decision made at the next level that is provided in the statute, which is an appeal, we would follow that,” Fore said.
Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.