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Judge: Kinder Morgan cannot use eminent domain
Palmetto Pipeline would pass through South Bryan
Pipeline protest CROP
Opponents of the proposed Palmetto Pipeline Project waved signs outside the Richmond Hill City Center prior to a public hearing April 21 sponsored by the Georgia Department of Transportation. An estimated 500 people attended the hearing, and all but one of those who spoke during the two-hours allotted for public comment were opposed to the pipeline. - photo by Bryan County News file photo

Kinder Morgan will not be able to use the power of eminent domain to install its proposed Palmetto Pipeline through the property of owners unwilling to negotiate with the Texas energy giant, a Fulton County judge has ruled.

Multiple media outlets reported Tuesday that Superior Court Judge Kimberly Esmond Adams denied the utility’s appeal of Georgia Transportation Commissioner Russell McMurry’s rejection of Kinder Morgan’s application for a certificate of public convenience and necessity, which is required for the company to invoke eminent domain for access to uncooperative property owners in the pipeline’s path.

The Palmetto Pipeline would tie into the much-larger Plantation Pipeline in Belton, South Carolina, and wind 360 miles to Jacksonville, Florida. The path would include 210 miles in Georgia, 7 of which would be in Bryan County. South Bryan also would be the site of a terminal with six to eight tanks, some of which could hold as much as 100,000 barrels of oil and that would move up to 25,000 barrels of fuel products per day.

In his decision, McMurry cited a forecast lack of demand in coming years and disagreed with Kinder Morgan’s assertions that its pipeline would increase competition for petroleum fuel in the Augusta, Savannah and Jacksonville markets. He quoted the company’s own admission that it has no control over the prices suppliers set.

Kinder Morgan said in a statement Tuesday afternoon that it is “disappointed” with Adams’ decision, but “we realized this outcome was a possibility given deference which the Court was required to give to the decision of the Georgia (Department of Transportation).”

The statement adds that the utility is “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,” the company’s statement says. “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.”

Kinder Morgan again asserted that lower prices were one of the “significant public benefits” the Palmetto Pipeline would bring, along with “increased tax revenues, good paying skilled jobs and increased revenues at local establishments.” It added that the pipeline would “get tanker trunks off the road and more safely (move) products underground,” benefits the utility says “are beginning to resonate with area residents.”

In a news release issued after Adams’ ruling became public, the Savannah Riverkeeper declared that pipeline opponents had won two victories — Adams’ affirmation of McMurry’s decision and legislation that cleared the Georgia House of Representatives on Monday night.

House Bill 1036 would impose a moratorium on the use of eminent domain by private petroleum companies until June 30, 2017, which allow a state commission to study whether petroleum companies should be allowed to invoke eminent domain.

The commission would be required to complete its work by the end of this year and present its findings to the General Assembly in 2017.

State Reps. Jesse Petrea, R-Savannah, and Ron Stephens, R-Savannah, are among the sponsors of the legislation, which will next be considered in the Senate.

“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,” said Steve Caley, legal director for GreenLaw, who represented the Savannah, Altamaha, Ogeechee and

Satilla riverkeepers, along with Center for a Sustainable Coast in the appeal.

Caley was quoted in the Savannah Riverkeeper’s news release Tuesday afternoon.

McMurry released his own statement Tuesday supporting Adams’ ruling.

“I am pleased with the judgment of the court in affirming GDOT’s decision that the pipeline does not constitute a public convenience and necessity,” he said. “We are not making determinations as to the importance of the project to the state, only whether the pipeline company should be permitted to use the powers of condemnation to obtain easements to accomplish its construction.”

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