Allen Fore, Kinder Morgan’s vice president of public affairs, was the first to speak at Tuesday’s public hearing at the Richmond Hill City Center regarding the company’s proposed Palmetto Pipeline Project.
That was the last positive spin the 360-mile pipeline got for most of the rest of the night.
Speaker after speaker stood up before a packed room to voice opposition to the pipeline and Kinder Morgan’s application to the Georgia Department of Transportation for a certificate of necessity and convenience.
The DOT said 528 people showed up at the hearing, and the agency will hold another hearing May 7 in Waynesboro. It also will take written comments through May 15.
If granted, the certificate will allow Kinder Morgan to use eminent domain to force property owners along the pipeline route to sell the company easements if they do not first come to a negotiated agreement.
That’s something the company rarely uses, Fore said, and even then landowners are compensated.
But even as he was speaking, it was clear this wasn’t Kinder Morgan’s night.
Many of those who spoke Tuesday, including Richmond Hill resident Roy Hubbard, railed against the company behind the pipeline after asking why Georgia DOT Commissioner Russell McMurray is the only person to decide whether Kinder Morgan would get the certificate.
“I have every respect for Commissioner McMurray’s long service for the Georgia DOT,” Hubbard said. “In my opinion, he should not be shouldered with the responsibility in deciding whether or not to apply such an invasive and potentially damaging rule such as the rule of eminent domain. There are 14 members on the DOT board. At the very least, they should be involved in the process. And certainly our elected representatives should be involved in the process.”
Hubbard went on to link Kinder Morgan Chairman and CEO Richard Kinder to failed energy trading company Enron, where Kinder once was chief operating officer. Hubbard also ran through a list of lawsuits Kinder’s current company is facing, but not before blistering the application process itself.
“We are talking about Georgia government officials jumping through hoops for a Texas billionaire who wants to take private property from Georgia citizens for his own personal gain, and the idea is actually being considered,” said Hubbard, one of more than 30 to speak out against the project.
Some who spoke out were attorneys. One speaker was Billy Morris, the founder, chairman and CEO of Morris Communications Co., which owns the Savannah Morning News, Augusta Chronicle and Florida Times-Union among other newspapers.
He was against it.
A number of those who spoke against the pipeline were environmentalists, and Riverkeepers for just about every river on the coast stood up to speak. Others didn’t identify themselves as such, including St. Simons resident Lisa Norton, who said she had attended a previous meeting on the pipeline sponsored by Kinder Morgan.
Norton said the company initially provided maps that didn’t have some of area’s rivers on them, and she thought the company should disclose who will be using the pipeline.
But she saved her strongest words for the company’s attempt to push the pipeline through, and fired a shot at public officials as well.
“My interpretation of this is legal thievery,” Norton said. “We may not be able to sue the state under sovereign immunity, but by God those public servants are liable, and I hope they hear what we’ve got to say today because they’re fair game if the people of Georgia don’t start being represented in this democratic process.”
Distrust in Kinder Morgan’s aims almost seemed to go hand-in-hand with a similar distrust of government.
Landowners also spoke out against the pipeline, among them Effingham County Tax Assessor Janis Bevill, who said her family has been on its land since it got a king’s grant when the colony of Georgia was founded.
She said there already are pipelines and power lines running through her property, but she’s concerned about liability now.
“If someone goes on that property and damages one of their pipelines, am I responsible for it? And if so, do I need to put all my property in an LLC to protect what little I do have left?” Bevill said, before asking DOT to study the application carefully.
“Here’s another big thing being put on public officials, and many of the people here will be watching in the future as to how you handle this decision for us,” she said.
Apart from Hubbard and his wife, Peach, who is president of the Dolphin Project, few who stood up to speak Tuesday were from Bryan County, but former county Commissioner Jimmy Henderson was one of those who got up to oppose the project.
“There’s a bunch of people here,” Henderson began. “If I’d been Commissioner McMurray, I would’ve been here.”
That drew cheers.
“I’m not going to go over all the issues that have been brought up, all good points,” Henderson continued. “I’ll just say I have a gas line that runs through my property. Has for as long as I can remember. All I can do with it is sit and watch the weeds grow. Can’t plant anything on it, can’t build anything on it, but I do get to pay the taxes on it. Please say no to this pipeline.”
Love’s Seafood owner Fulton Love also spoke against the pipeline.
“I live in Chatham County, I’m a business owner and a property owner,” Love said. “I agree with everything that’s pretty much been said here today. One thing that Kinder Morgan brought up, that they didn’t finish on. They told you they’re going to generate 20 jobs in Atlanta to handle the oil flow going through this pipeline. They didn’t tell you how many people they’re going to put out of business. The local truck drivers and watermen that help move the product up and down the waterways. This is something we don’t need. These people already are doing a great job moving this stuff. We aren’t having problem with major spills.”
The only speaker in favor of the project was Darrell Turner. He spoke briefly.
“I’ve sat here tonight and heard some very eloquent speeches, and I know they’re all from the heart,” Turner said. “Ladies and gentlemen, I’m not a lawyer, not a professional speaker. But I do represent several hundred highly skilled workers in the states of South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. I represent the people who will build this pipeline, and I represent people who pay taxes in South Carolina, Florida and Georgia, and I’m here to tell every one of you … I’m going to do everything I can to provide these workers of mine with jobs. Thank y’all very much.”
Turner was booed.
The only currently serving elected official to speak out against the pipeline was Chatham County Commissioner Tony Center.
“I just want to lend my minuscule voice against the pipeline, and there’s an environmental concern people much more educated and erudite than I am have spoken about that,” Center said, before attacking Kinder Morgan’s co-founder. “If Mr. Kinder really wants to help people, he can use the $12 billion he gained from lying, stealing, and cheating in Enron to pay back the thousands of people who lost their life’s savings due to Enron.”
During a meeting with reporters afterward, Fore said he understood the concerns of those opposed to the project, but he said there is a lack of information and blamed the company for much of it.
“We can do a better job of informing the public,” he said.