Expansion of Georgia pipeline will test state laws

20 10 2008

When the McIvers moved into their Powder Springs home 12 years ago, they had some reservations about one of their new neighbors.

Behind the split-level house, about a meter below the grass, two steel pipelines carried gasoline, diesel, jet fuel and home heating oil from Gulf Coast refineries to metro Atlanta and other markets between Houston and the New York harbor.

“We’ve always known that gas line was going to be trouble,” said Phillip McIver, 32.

It just wasn’t the type of trouble they were expecting.

The pipelines’ owner, Alpharetta-based Colonial Pipeline, wants to lay down a third line to unclog the choke point between Baton Rouge, La., and Atlanta. To do that, the company needs another 25 feet of right-of-way, adding to the 75 feet it already has.

“Now it’s a matter of trying to educate ourselves and be knowledgeable about it so we don’t get shafted in the end,” McIver said.

In Georgia, where the expansion is expected to cross the northwest counties of Cobb, Paulding, Carroll and Haralson, Colonial’s job is to convince environmental regulators and about 500 landowners that the advantages of being able to deliver more fuel faster is worth the disadvantages —- the potential for fuel leaks, polluted water and decreased property values.

A new pipeline is a high-risk enterprise from Colonial’s perspective as well, and not just because it carries a $3 billion price tag in a shaky credit market.

“Any one permit, any one piece of property that we couldn’t get stops the whole project,” said Norm Szydlowski, Colonial’s president and chief executive officer who knows something about risk. In 2005, he was the senior consultant to the Iraqi Ministry of Oil, appointed by the Pentagon to rebuild that country’s oil industry.

In an interview earlier this month, Szydlowski said the biggest hurdle to expanding Colonial’s pipeline is the Georgia Environmental Protection Division. Colonial, owned by international oil companies and energy investors, is the first to test a 1995 law that requires EPD approval before a petroleum pipeline company can exercise the power of eminent domain. The other states affected by the 500-mile pipeline expansion —- Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama —- do not require state-level oversight, Szydlowski said.

The Georgia Department of Transportation has already signed off, as has the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. EPD plans to hold at least three public meetings on Colonial’s request in December. The targeted completion date is late 2012.

Most metro Atlantans would be hard-pressed to name the company that delivers about 70 percent of the fuel they pump into their cars and trucks, and Colonial likes it that way.

When the pipeline company grabs headlines, it’s usually not good:

*In 2003, Colonial agreed to pay a record fine to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for spilling 1.45 million gallons of oil in five states. By far the largest spill, and one that still motivates the company today, was caused when a pipe ruptured and 960,000 gallons of diesel fuel contaminated a 34-mile stretch of the Reedy River near Greenville, S.C. About 35,000 fish died.

*In 2005, Hurricane Katrina wiped out power to the pipelines for several days, creating a 1970s-style gas crisis as metro Atlantans faced long lines and soaring prices. The company did not have a backup plan.

*Last month, metro Atlantans again waited in long lines after Hurricanes Gustav and Ike knocked out Gulf Coast refineries. But this time, Colonial was ready, mobilizing eight of the 12 massive power generators it purchased after Katrina for $5 million. The pipelines moved all the available product.

Colonial, established in Buckhead in 1962, also made an unfortunate name for itself around the state Capitol in the mid-1990s when it tried to extend its pipeline through some quail plantations in south Georgia. Their well-connected owners are the reason Colonial, and the Plantation Pipeline, which carries about 30 percent of metro Atlanta’s fuel, now have to get special permission from the state before condemning land for expansion.

Joe Tanner, who at the time was the state Department of Natural Resources commissioner, said, “I think the company just failed to understand who the landowners were they were dealing with.”

Read on here.

Island water source turning salty

20 10 2008


By LIZ MITCHELL | Beaufort Gazette

Facing the threat of saltwater intrusion into local drinking water sources, South Carolina and Georgia officials are cooperating to manage those underground reserves.  But some are worried current conservation efforts and future restrictions might not be enough to preserve the Upper Floridan Aquifer, a resource buried 150 to 300 feet deep that already has been tainted with enough saltwater to close four wells on Hilton Head Island since 2000.

Studies have shown the saltwater problem began with development in Savannah that saw the city pumping millions of gallons of water a day from the aquifer.

By 1960, the water table had dropped 20 feet, and the groundwater flow shifted direction, according to Dr. Richard Spruill, a professor of hydrology at East Carolina University who has helped conduct some aquifer studies on Hilton Head.

Instead of fresh groundwater flowing north and discharging into salty Port Royal Sound, it moves south toward Savannah.

That means saltwater is seeping into the aquifer and contaminating fresh water.

If the pumping doesn’t slow in the Savannah area, saltwater intrusion will continue.

“Both states agree that our objective is … to agree on the amount of groundwater we can safely pump without making the saltwater problem any worse,” said Dean Moss, general manager of the Beaufort-Jasper Water and Sewer Authority, who also sits on a bi-state task force evaluating future water use.

“If we can stop pumping altogether, within a couple hundred years, maybe the saltwater can push out, but that is not going to be possible.”

Instead, officials hope to stop saltwater from intruding farther.

While the goal is clear, the means to achieve it is not.

“But what kind of pumping reductions it will take to do that, we don’t know yet,” Moss said.

Read on here.

Local forester supports Amendment 1

20 10 2008


Editorial – Alan D. McAllister | Tifton Gazette

Amendment 1 is one of the most important forestland conservation measures ever taken up by the Georgia General Assembly. It is truly a conservation bill since conservation of natural resources has come to mean “wise use and management.” Gifford Pinchot, the father of American forestry, described it as meaning “the greatest good for the greatest number over the longest time.” On forest lands this means growing and managing timber crops so as to obtain the maximum yields of timber, wildlife, watershed protection and other values without destruction of the forest or its soil.

Georgia is currently blessed with 24 million acres of forests — forests that provide jobs, enhance our environment and make Georgia a beautiful place to live. Fortunately, these forests are renewable so that its continuous replanting guarantees that new forests are born all the time. But maintaining abundant forests is not without its challenges.

Today, Georgia’s forests are threatened by more than just southern pine beetles, destructive wildfires and urban sprawl. A major culprit is rapidly escalating property taxes that are making it more difficult to keep land in forests. When forests disappear, so do the industries and jobs they create and the numerous environmental benefits they deliver free of charge — clean water, pure air and wildlife habitat, to name a few.

Our forests are truly the economic lifeblood of many Georgia communities and greatly contribute to the social fabric of these areas. A Georgia Tech study conducted each year reveals the economies of 1/3 of Georgia counties significantly rely on forests and forest product companies. In fact, forestry contributes $25 billion each year to the state’s economy.

To those that say this amendment will cost local taxpayers, I say that this is just not true. Amendment 1 creates a Constitutional mandate to reimburse revenue losses to counties whose digest is impacted by the Georgia Forest Land Protection Act of 2008. This act will help keep the forest industry strong, therefore benefiting all Georgians with the billions contributed to the state’s economy, not to mention the environmental benefits that go along with healthy forests.

The broad coalition of organizations endorsing Amendment 1 includes: Georgia Forestry Association, Georgia Agribusiness Council, The Georgia Conservancy, Georgia Conservation Voters, Georgia Farm Bureau, Georgia Wildlife Federation, Georgia Chamber of Commerce, Sierra Club – Georgia Chapter, The Nature Conservancy, Heritage and Wildlife Conservation Council, Georgia Hunting and Fishing Federation and Quality Deer Management Association.

In addition, the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia are not opposing Amendment 1 since they were instrumental in creating the mandate to reimburse revenue losses in those counties that may be impacted by this legislation.

Read on here.

Georgia senators: Obama doesn’t understand tri-state water issues

20 10 2008

Submitted by the offices of Sens. Isakson and Chambliss

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., and Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., sent a letter to Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., expressing their disappointment with comments he made on Oct. 16 regarding water allocation issues in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint and Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa river basins.

The text of the letter is below:

Dear Senator Obama:

We are writing to express our disappointment with comments made yesterday by you and your campaign relating to water allocation issues in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) and Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa (ACT) River basins. As you may know, these river basins serve Georgia, Alabama, and Florida. While we appreciate your recent and sudden interest in the tri-state water issues we have been working on for the past six years, the comments by you and your campaign reflect a fundamental lack of understanding of the nature of the problems in the ACF and ACT basins, a lack of understanding of the requirements of the Army Corps of Engineers with regards to the ACF and ACT basins under federal law, and a cavalier disregard for the needs of the residents of Georgia.

According to your campaign’s statement, you “would direct the National Research Council (NRC) to conduct a study to assess the water availability, supply options, and demand-management alternatives that factor into ACF River System usage, as well as the impact of freshwater flow on the ecology of the Apalachicola River and Bay.” You also said “As President, I will make protecting Florida’s water resources a priority.”

As you may know, the Army Corps of Engineers is required under federal law to update the water control manuals for the ACF and ACT basins, and recently announced it would begin doing so in the ACT basin. We were pleased to hear from Secretary of the Army Pete Geren personally that the Corps is moving forward with updating these manuals, because it will allow the Corps to make smarter decisions in their management of these river systems. We have underscored to him how important this action is. As you also may know such an update would include studies to assess water supply and demand, and environmental management practices for ALL the users and stakeholder in the basins, not just those on the Apalachicola River and Bay. To ask the Corps to ignore its responsibilities under federal law in favor of the residents of Florida is a clear affront to the residents of Georgia. To state that you will make protecting Florida’s water resources a priority over Georgia’s shows that you do not care about the needs of the people of Georgia.

We have continually worked to get Georgia, Florida and Alabama together and to force the Corp of Engineers to update a 20-year-old Water Control Plan for the Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa and Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basins. In 2006 we held Senate hearings in Gainesville and Columbus to implore the Corps to keep its commitment to update its outdated water control plan for the two river basins.

On August 1, 2007, we met with Secretary Geren as well as Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works John Paul Woodley, Lieutenant General Robert L. Van Antwerp and General Counsel Craig Schmauder. At the meeting, Secretary Geren indicated his desire to give mediation time to work before starting the update of the water control manuals.

When Secretary Geren gave his commitment to us that if and when mediation broke down and was not making progress, he would begin the update of the water control manuals, we held him to that promise. On September 28, 2007, after judges involved in the mediation announced that the talks had broken down, we sent a letter to Secretary Geren strongly urging him to honor his pledge to update the water control plan.

On October 18, 2007, Secretary Woodley told both of us by telephone that the Corps will start the process for updating the water control manual for the Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa River Basin.

We also facilitated meetings in Washington between the Governors of Georgia, Alabama, and Florida, as well as meetings between the Governors and the Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne, and Council on Environmental Quality Chairman Jim Connaughton. We continue to work with the Governors and their staffs to come to a solution so the states can take advantage of the productive talks they have had and agree on a resolution.

From Lake Lanier to Lake Allatoona, from Atlanta to West Point Lake, and from LaGrange to Columbus, we have worked to find a solution that benefits not only the people of our state, but all those who reside in the river basins. It is unfortunate that you wish to undo the good work we have done to find a solution for all the people in the river basin and instead prioritize the needs of only the people of Florida.


Saxby Chambliss Johnny Isakson

United States Senator United States Senator