By David Pendered
The Savannah Riverkeeper is sounding the alarm over a proposed 360-mile pipeline for refined petroleum and ethanol that’s to be built from South Carolina to Savannah and across coastal Georgia to Jacksonville, Fla. The first of five public meetings is set for Wednesday in Savannah.
The proposed $1 billion Palmetto Project would begin near Belton, S.C., where it would link to an existing pipeline that stretches from Baton Rouge, La. to near Washington, D.C.
From Belton, the proposed pipeline would be built along the Savannah River corridor to Savannah. From there it would pass through the watersheds of five rivers as it reaches the Brunswick area, continuing to a stopping point near Jacksonville.
The fuel it transports, up to 167,000 barrels a day, would serve consumers who now have limited access to fuel, according to pipeline developer Kinder Morgan. The Palmetto Project would provide Savannah and Jacksonville with their first major pipeline source, supplementing fuel brought in by ship. North Augusta would benefit from additional pipeline capacity.
The spokesman for the Georgia Ports Authority, Robert Morris, said in an email Tuesday that GPA has not taken a position on the proposed pipeline. A new fuel terminal is to be built in the Savannah area as part of the project.
The meeting Wednesday is the first of five scheduled by the Georgia Department of Transportation. GDOT is handling the request for a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity the pipeline developer seeks as part of the approval process. Five hearings are scheduled through March 12 in towns along the proposed construction route.
The Savannah Riverkeeper contends the pipeline could jeopardize the environment. The pipeline developer, Houston-based Kinder Morgan, contends the pipeline will be thoroughly vetted by state and federal authorities.
“Building another pipeline is a huge risk to our communities,” Savannah Riverkeeper Tonya Bonitatibus said in a statement. “In the event of an accident, which we have seen are all too common, drinking water, wildlife and fragile ecosystems, tourism industry, and even people’s health could be impacted or irreparably damaged.”
An unrelated matter is fueling the environmentalists’ concern: the Legislature’s handling of the 25-foot buffer related to coastal wetlands. Senate Bill 101 is intended to clarify ambiguities in state law that prompted the Georgia Department of Natural Resources to stop enforcing existing provisions in 2014.
A coalition of environmental groups contend SB 101 does not go far enough to protect the buffer. However, their concerns were not fully addressed before the Senate approved on Monday a substitute version of SB 101 and sent it to the House for consideration.
Meanwhile, Richard Wheatley, a spokesman for pipeline developer Kinder Morgan, said Tuesday the pipeline proposal will adhere to all regulatory procedures.
“The project is going to undergo a comprehensive review process and, among other issues, will be issues related to environmental protection, mitigation, how it fits into siting, permitting, construction and operation of the project,” Wheatley said.
“In response to environmental concerns about environmental protection and mitigation measures, especially for watersheds and wetlands among other issues, a number of federal and state agencies will be involved in the approval and oversight of the project,” Wheatley said. “Those agencies, federal and state, would include the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Florida DEP [Department of Environmental Protection], South Carolina DNR [Department of Natural Resources], and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.”