Four years ago Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson set the festive tone outside a special Sabal Trail Open House:
Merrillee has been in the thick of opposing fossil fuel boondoggles and promoting clean solar power since at least 2013.
Why was this one of only two Sabal Trail Open Houses in fall 2014, way back when FERC’s John Peconom actually answered when any of us called? (He answered, is why I know the only other one was in Albany, Georgia.) According to Sabal Trail’s newspaper announcement:
As a result of extensive survey work and feedback received from stakeholders, Sabal Trail is considering an alternative pipeline route, the Withlacoochee Alternative, which would eliminate the Withlacoochee River crossing in the Hamilton County area and has scheduled an Open House in your area.
5-7:30 PM Tue 21 Oct 2014 @ Florida Gateway Golf & Country Club, in Sabal Trail at Jasper, FL Country Club, by John S. Quarterman, for SpectraBusters.org, 21 October 2014. Found in a newspaper by Debra Johnson.
The pipeline’s prospective route runs through both Hamilton and Suwannee counties, crossing over the Withlacoochee and Suwannee Rivers.
The current route also goes through Madison County between those two rivers, as you can see in this map.
On with the article:
However, a geological survey revealed that the pipeline would endanger sensitive water areas both near and downstream of its crossing of the Withlacoochee. Hamilton County commissioners drafted a resolution in August telling Sabal Trail to steer clear of the Withlacoochee.
The survey is the one Chris Mericle presented to the Hamilton County Commission 19 August 2014. Here it is in PDF on the WWALS website, Hydrogeology report on Sabal Trail pipeline by David Brown. Here’s Hamilton County Resolution No. 14-10 7, passed at a special Hamilton County Commission meeting a few days later, with links to all its attachments (including that hydrogeology report).
Already on August 26, 2014, FERC had ordered Sabal Trail to come up with some alternatives.
Further feedback included when on September 9, 2014 Chris and Deanna Mericle got FERC’s John Peconom and Sabal Trail’s Andrew Grover and other pipeline employees and contractors to come view sinkholes and springs along Sabal Trail’s intended path to cross the Withlacoochee River.
John Peconom (center) Talking with Deanna &Chris Mericle, David Brown, and FERC Geologist Tony
A week after that Mericle-organized field trip, Sabal Trail came up with a first attempt to reroute to not cross the Withlacoochee River in Florida, Sabal Trail’s Withlacoochee Alternative 1 (East) of 15 September 2014:
That one would have gone through some of the most-used areas of Suwannee River State Park (SRSP), and led to many further complaints.
So Sabal Trail filed another one a month later:
That new proposed route moved the Suwannee River crossing upstream. It’s impossible to tell from that map, but it was still routed through SRSP, just through a less-known area. And, of course, through a new set of landowners. This second proposed reroute was the one to be discussed in Jasper.
I told John Peconom that someday I would haul this picture out of the archives, and today is that day:
Six days later, the Suwannee Democrat on the same day posted a fluff piece by a Sabal Trail PR firm and also some real reporting. Pipeline open house draws protesters Joyce Marie Taylor, The Suwannee Democrat, The Jasper News, Mayo Free Press, 27 October 2014, Pipeline open house draws protesters,
On the right is Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson. She and I were standing together as we have for the past five years.
That newspaper article reads in part:
One of the bigger changes concerns the route across the Withlacoochee River in Jennings, which they are currently working on. This change was prompted by efforts from local residents in that area, who fiercely objected to the pipeline crossing over an environmentally sensitive area full of karst terrain and sinkholes. Chris Mericle, who led that opposition, popped in at the open house and spoke to many of the Sabal Trail representatives to check on the progress of the alternative route.
“I think we’re well into the survey of the alternative route,” [Spectra Energy Director of Stakeholder Outreach Andrea] Grover told him.
Sabal Trail environmental representative Gus McLachlan told Mericle that they were getting geared up to do some geotechnical work on the alternative route.
“It’s all coming together,” McLachlan said. “It just takes some time.”
Grover said they are still in the pre-filing process with FERC, as they compile data for the project, and they hope to file an application with them by the end of the year. They had hoped to file at the end of October, however, because of the potential reroutes they had to extend that timeline. After the filing, it will take FERC about a year to make a decision, Grover added.
“Should they issue a certificate, we would start construction probably around the summer of 2016, and be in service delivering gas to those points by May, 2017,” said Grover. “So, it’s a long ways off.”
Well, they missed that May 2017 date by a month.
The article also says:
Patricia Tayman owns 10 acres in Suwannee County and she was present at the open house, along with other SpectraBusters supporters. Tayman said she is worried about her water wells if there was ever a natural gas pipeline incident or explosion.
Tayman asked Grover if the majority of the natural gas was going to be exported out of the country. In fact, she asked the question three separate times, until she got a definitive answer.
Grover stated, “These contracts are for domestic use at their electric generation facilities. At this point in time, our customer’s plans (Duke and FPL) are for it to stay in the state.”
The article quotes me about liquid natural gas (LNG) export. Then the story continues:
Tayman rhetorically asked Grover if she was aware of all the money spent by Florida Governor Rick Scott and all the measures he and other elected officials have taken in order to preserve the rivers, springs and water supply, as well as protect the natural environment in North Florida and throughout the entire state.
“Are you aware of the land mass here that is all limestone and that we’ve had numerous sinkholes?” Tayman continued. “We almost lost the courthouse in Suwannee to a sinkhole. You don’t want to mess with land that deteriorates very rapidly, and that is why we’re all like ‘what are people thinking here?’”
Grover offered to introduce Tayman to one of the geophysical engineers, but Tayman said she had already done her research.
“The land is much better over toward Jacksonville,” Tayman went on. “This particular corridor is extremely, extremely vulnerable to just disintegrating. I just find it very hard to believe that you would jeopardize the water supply. I’m having a hard time distinguishing between incompetence and just plain greed. It’s mindboggling to me that this would even be considered, especially this particular part of the state.”
Tayman said the pipeline is not a done deal.
“There’s been thousands of people that you’ve shook up by all these bogus different routes,” Tayman told Grover. “You’ve got so many people from Georgia to Alabama and in Florida that are just in a tailspin and concerned, and that fright turns into anger.”
Tayman continued, “I’m tired of hearing that this thing is safe.”
Tayman said when a natural gas disaster happens it will be up to the area residents to clean up the mess.
“I don’t think the majority of these people are willing to jeopardize their drinking water,” Tayman said. “This is the epitome of ignorance and greed.”
Tayman said in her research she found that Sabal Trail does not have insurance to clean up a spill.
“We do not have a facility to fight something like this,” Tayman said. “Our little fire department? If something was to go bad? Please… They think they can just push us around. They’re not. I don’t have a lot of money, but I’ll tell you what, with the little bit I have left, I’ll get a lawyer. I think if I got enough people to help with that, we could have a little bit of a battle with them. I still believe in America. You can’t believe how deep this goes with organizations with their hands in this that are getting their pockets filled. It is mindboggling. This is the biggest joke I have ever seen in my life with the blatant lying about whether it’s going to be exported.”
“Every one of the southern proposed routes crosses the Suwannee River,” Quarterman added.” There’s only one way to make it not cross the Suwannee River. Have no pipeline!”
Well, we got a pipeline under the Withlacoochee, Suwannee, and Santa Fe Rivers, and the other Withlacoochee River in Marion County, Florida, and it already leaked methane at the Hildreth compressor station site in Suwannee County. Not that that’s a surprise after the repeated hazardous Mercaptan odorant leaks at the Dunnellon compressor station site in Marion County.
The route presented in Jasper was the route Sabal Trail ended up taking to drill under the Suwannee River, causing sinkholes at the Suwannee County drill site, and apparently several in the landowner’s pasture on the Hamilton County side, not to mention several at the Santa Fe River crossing near Merrillee’s place, and at least two in Florida public roads.
So that reroute did get it off the Withlacoochee River in Florida, but not in Georgia. And on the Suwannee River it merely moved it upstream. Instead of going through Duke Energy’s Suwannee Power Plant land, it ended up taking easements from more private landowners.
There is only one appropriate route for this or any other new interstate natural gas pipeline: nowhere! As Merrillee has said from the beginning, if we can’t stop Sabal Trail from being constructed, it should be decommissioned and taken back out of the ground.
-jsq, John S. Quarterman, Suwannee RIVERKEEPER®
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