SYLVANIA — Beginning a public hearing Tuesday at the Screven County Library, representatives of the Kinder Morgan company announced that a section of the proposed Palmetto Pipeline will be rerouted to avoid a Revolutionary War battleground.
This pleased some people concerned about the 1779 Battle of Brier Creek site, which overlaps the boundaries of the Tuckahoe Wildlife Management Area and is believed to contain the mass graves of about 150 patriot soldiers. But the 360-mile motor fuel pipeline, which would cross under the Savannah River south of Augusta and remain close to the river in Screven and Effingham counties, still faces opposition from the Savannah Riverkeeper, several other Riverkeeper and environmental organizations and some local residents.
“We met with the mayor earlier today, and we are going to route around the battlefield,” Allen Fore, Kinder Morgan’s vice president of public affairs, announced. “We’ve identified an alternative, and we plan to do that. We’ll discuss that a little more tonight, but you have the commitment from the company.”
This prompted a smattering of applause, and someone quietly exclaimed “all right.” Some members of the Sons of the American Revolution sat on the front row, dressed in patriot uniforms including tricorn hats. The community room was packed so that some people stood for nearly two hours to participate.
Sylvania Mayor Margaret Evans spoke later in the meeting, stating that it was not necessary for her to read her City Council’s resolution for protection of the Brier Creek site because of the announced rerouting. The city of Sylvania was the conduit for a $100,000 federal grant for an archeological study on the battlefield, and Evans has long been interested in its preservation.
“The way I feel about it, those 150 men that are buried out there that lost their lives in the Battle of Brier Creek, they gave their lives for us, and now it is time for us to defend (them). Thank you very much,” she said and sat back down.
$1 billion project
Houston-based Kinder Morgan, one of the largest pipeline companies in America, found commercial customers for the pipeline before deciding to undertake the $1 billion project.
The Palmetto Pipeline would begin at Belton, in northwestern South Carolina near Clemson. There, it would receive fuel through a terminal facility from the existing Plantation Pipeline, which carries fuels from the Louisiana and Mississippi Gulf Coast.
Extending to Jacksonville, Florida, the new pipeline would deliver gasoline, road-grade diesel fuel and denatured ethanol to distribution terminals in Augusta, Savannah and Jacksonville. Much of the fuel distributed in the Savannah and Jacksonville areas, project director Brian Williams said, now arrives on ships. The new pipeline, he said, will carry fuel for domestic use, not for export.
Made of high-strength steel with a corrosion-resistant coating, the 16-inch diameter pipe will be buried 4 feet deep in most places.
Building the pipeline, the company says, will create about 1,200 temporary jobs at the peak of activity. About 28 full-time, permanent jobs are projected to be created to operate the pipeline. As emerged during Tuesday’s discussion, none of the permanent jobs will be in Screven County.
However, the company estimates it will pay $700,000 in property taxes annually in Screven County, Fore said, as part of $4.9 million in annual state and local taxes on the pipeline in Georgia.
While purchasing small tracts of land for three pumping stations at about 90-mile intervals, Kinder Morgan plans to obtain a 50-foot-wide pipeline path as permanent easements from property owners. The company tries to purchase the easements by negotiations but could use eminent domain to force a sale.
Fore and Williams released no details on where the route will go to avoid the battlefield.
“We’re not quite prepared to talk about that yet, because one of the things we have to do is work with the property owners,” Williams said. “We have right-of-way agents out that are working on that now.”
But the plan involves horizontal, directional drilling to pass under Brier Creek at the wildlife management area’s narrowest point, he said.
Jon Chally, an attorney with the King & Spalding firm, had introduced the hearing, the third in a series of five, as something Kinder Morgan was doing to provide an opportunity for public comment at the request of the Georgia Department of Transportation.
However, Riverkeeper Tonya Bonitatibus, head of the Savannah Riverkeeper organization, questioned whether this was an official public hearing, because it was conducted by the company rather than the GDOT.
One GDOT official was present and spoke up to say the department would receive the comments but had no answer when Bonitatibus asked if the agency would respond to them. Chally had announced that written comments are being accepted for 90 days, at least from the Feb. 13 state application date.
Bonitatibus said she also was speaking for Push Back the Pipeline, a three-state coalition of 25 citizen groups.
“Our economy throughout this entire area is completely reliant on this river,” Bonitatibus said. “We don’t have assimilative capacity left; we don’t have room to be messing around. Every time you mess up or somebody else messes up, maybe at the lake, down in Savannah, we all get affected by that.”
She questioned Kinder Morgan’s assurances that leaks are few and quickly addressed.
“Traditionally, what I have seen is that it often takes a lot longer than you say to know that these spills are occurring,” Bonitatibus said. “The average spill that I see is 70,000 gallons before somebody wakes up and sees that it’s spilling.”
But she acknowledged that her experience has been with spills of non-petroleum products, such as kaolin.
Petroleum pipeline operators are required to report all spills of more than five gallons to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, Williams noted. PHMSA posts data about spills and other incidents on its website, www.phmsa.dot.gov.
Sylvania resident Debo Boddiford observed that Kinder Morgan is seeking a “certificate of public convenience and necessity” from the state.
“It does not add to the comfort and the ease of the people of Screven County to have our creeks, our wetlands and our rivers that we so love, that we fish, potentially destroyed by a gasoline leak,” she said.
Other concerns voiced by area residents include pipeline easements giving ATV riders and trespassers access to private property and a perceived lack of benefits to the immediate area.
Daniel Battle of Cypress Cultural Consultants, who did the Brier Creek battlefield archaeology under Sylvania’s grant, said he and other interested people were very happy about the rerouting announcement. But he hopes the company will be sensitive to other sites of buried historic interest.
“You avoid one site and may go over two more,” Battle said. “I hope they deal on it each time they come to a different site.”
Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.