Commission airs concerns about gas line

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By Lou Elliott Jones

Officials with Sabal Trail Transmission LLC which is proposing to bring a 36-inch, 28.5 mile long natural gas line through the eastern and southern parts of Levy County presented information on the project at Tuesday's county commission meeting.

While the intended purpose was to bring the commission and county residents up to speed on what is happening, the commissioners also took time to have their own representative ask questions concerning safety measures and to air grievances they received from property owners that the company's contract workers were rude and disrespectful to property owners.

Brian Fahrenthold, director of governmental affairs for Sabal, said the 474-mile main line is a joint venture of Spectra Energy Corp and NextEra Energy, Inc. The line begins in Alabama and runs through Georgia and Florida to supply Florida Power and Light and other customers with natural gas. 

Fahrenthold said the company tries to follow existing right of way, but has has done surveys for easements on private property, contacted land owners who are along the proposed route to obtain right of way for construction, hosted informational meetings and open houses with landowners and the public and is seeking Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approval for the project. 

He told the commission the line was needed because the state's power generation facilities are moving from using oil-based fuels to natural gas. And, he said, the property with a gas transmission line is taxed at the highest property rate in the state. He said it is estimated to bring $837 million in taxes over a six-year period. 

While the company is looking to have a 100-foot corridor for locating the line, he said when the line is finished, only 50 feet will be retained by the company and the rest returns to the land owner. He said the company has listened to property owners' concerns and is looking at some realignments in the line. 

Fahrenthold said the company has “had a successful right of way in the county” but Commissioner Danny Stevens of Williston (R-District 5)  said he had received complaints from residents. 

“It appears those surveyors are not people friendly,” said Stevens. He said, “Those people you have have been very disrespectful to property owners when they have tried talking to them.”

Fahrenthold said he took the complaints by any public official seriously. “I will take that back and let them know there was some disrespect,” he said. 

Susan Waller, a public relations consultant for the company, said the pipeline's construction will bring money into the county including the purchase of supplies and the hiring of security for construction sites. She said the company will also be purchasing topsoil and fertilizer to restore the areas with construction. “You will see right of way people. You will see technicians. You will see a lot of jobs,” she said.

As for safety, Fahrenthold said the company has very stringent requirements and said a pipeline “is one of the safest modes of transportation.” He said the company already has experience operating another natural gas pipeline that runs from the far end of the Panhandle to Central Florida and on to FPL facilities in South Florida. 

Commissioner Mike Joyner of Morriston (R-District 3) said, “There's going to be accidents; people's going to get hurt.”

He said some of the pipeline goes through area where county ambulances may not be able to go and asked how will it be handled. “This is what people are asking me so this is what I am asking you: Do you have the means to provide this county with an emergency vehicle? This county's poor.”

Waller said the company would work with first responders and emergency crews to handle accidents. 

“We don't have a $200,000 vehicle to go and get one of your injured workers. We should not take it for granted,” Joyner said. 

Joyner also asked if anyone could stop the project. 

“Who’s got the authority to put a bridle on this and say stop?” Joyner asked. 

Fahrenthold said FERC would be the authority and mentioned that there will be three public meetings in the region to receive public comment. “You have the opportunity to appear at those scoping meetings and speak,” Fahrenthold said. 

“This pipeline's going through. It's gonna happen and all we can do is work the best we can and make it go smoothly. And for the people of this county we are going to make it safe as can be,” Joyner said. 

Sabal Trail's website is www.sabaltrailtransmission.com. The company is also on Twitter @sabaltrail.