By David Pendered
A Fulton County judge on Tuesday upheld GDOTs refusal to allow a pipeline company to condemn land along the Savannah River. The company said it is reviewing its options.
The ruling comes a day after the Georgia House voted 165-2 in favor of legislation that could delay the pipeline. The measure now is pending before the Senate.
State Rep. Bill Hitchens (R-Rincon) filed House Bill 1036 on Feb. 17. It would create a one-year moratorium on the use of eminent domain for pipeline construction. Co-signers include Rep. Stacey Abrams (D-Atlanta), the House minority leader.
At issue is a proposal by Kinder Morgan, Inc. to construct a $1 billion pipeline that would traverse a total of 360 miles in South Carolina and Georgia. Kinder Morgan contends the pipeline is needed to transport up to 167,000 barrels of petroleum products to consumers located mainly in Savannah and Jacksonville.
Fulton County Superior Court Judge Kimberly Esmond Adams issued a ruling Tuesday that affirms the administrative ruling by Russell McMurry, commissioner of Georgia’s Department of Transportation.
Specifically McMurry declined to grant Kinder Morgan a certificate of public need, which the company must have if it is to be able to condemn land it needs to bury the pipeline. The company has been working with landowners for about a year.
In his May 18, 2015 letter to KMI, McMurry wrote:
- “Georgia law requires me to determine whether the public convenience and necessity of the project is such that the pipeline company should be permitted to use the powers of condemnation to obtain the permanent and temporary easements necessary to accomplish the construction of the pipeline. In this instance, my conclusion is that there is substantial evidence that the construction of proposed pipeline will not constitute a public convenience and necessity. Accordingly, Palmetto’s application is denied.”
Pipeline opponents expressed satisfaction with the outcome of the court case.
“This is vindication that there is no need for a petroleum pipeline on Georgia’s coast that would justify a private company forcibly taking private property for private profit,” Steve Caley, legal director for GreenLaw, who represented intervenors including the Savannah, Altamaha, Ogeechee and Satilla riverkeepers, along with Center for a Sustainable Coast in the appeal, said in a statement issued by the Savannah Riverkeeper.
Kinder Morgan responded to the ruling by citing its positive negotiations with some landowners. KMI did not rule out a possible appeal of the Fulton County court ruling:
- “While we are disappointed with the Court’s decision, we realized this outcome was a possibility given deference which the Court was required to give to the decision of the Georgia DOT, and we are currently reviewing the decision, its ramifications and our options.
- “Over the past several months, we’ve been working with landowners and impacted stakeholders to address concerns and review recommendations, with the goal of constructing the pipeline to the satisfaction of all stakeholders. We’re pleased with the progress we have made to date and we are encouraged by the constructive feedback we are hearing from stakeholders regarding the project.
- “Many landowners are positive about the project, and we believe the significant public benefits it will bring to the region (such as lower fuel prices, increased tax revenues, good paying skilled jobs and increased revenues at local establishments), combined with the prospect of getting tanker trucks off the road and more safely moving products underground, are beginning to resonate with area residents. Overall, the communities are embracing what this project will provide – more competition and a safer alternative to trucking for fuel transportation into these markets.
- “We will continue to provide updates on the project as they become available.”