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Kinder Morgan suspends Palmetto Pipeline

After a series of legislative and judicial setbacks in recent weeks, Texas energy company Kinder Morgan announced Wednesday afternoon that it has suspended work on the controversial Palmetto Pipeline, which would have gone through Liberty and Long counties as part of its 360-mile route between Belton, South Carolina, and Jacksonville, Florida.

“Notice: Kinder Morgan has suspended further work on the Palmetto Pipeline project, following the unfavorable action by the Georgia legislature regarding eminent domain authority and permitting restrictions for petroleum pipelines,” the utility posted on its website. “While this legislative action was disappointing, we remain committed to providing customized transportation solutions to our customers.”

The announcement comes as a surprise after the utility recently paid $1,838,550 for two parcels of land at the Belfast Commerce Centre, according to paperwork filed this month with the Bryan County Clerk of Courts office.

The Belfast Commerce Centre property south of Richmond Hill was slated to be the site of a terminal for six to eight tanks, each holding as much as 100,000 barrels of oil. About 18 miles of the pipeline would pass through Liberty County and 2 miles through Long County.

Kinder Morgan spokeswoman Melissa Ruiz said in an email to the Bryan County News that there was “nothing more to add” in response to a question about what effect the suspension would have on the Bryan County land purchase.

The Georgia General Assembly recently approved House Bill 1036, which would place a moratorium on the use of eminent domain and on the permitting process for the construction of petroleum pipelines until June 2017. The bill’s sponsors include state Reps. Jesse Petrea and Ron Stephens, both R-Savannah.

Gov. Nathan Deal has until May 3 to either veto or sign the legislation.

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Kimberly Esmond Adams also recently denied Kinder Morgan’s appeal of Georgia Transportation Commissioner Russell McMurry’s rejection of the company’s application for a certificate of public convenience and necessity, which the company needs to invoke eminent domain.

Savannah Riverkeeper Tonya Bonitatibus, who is also the spokeswoman for the Push Back the Pipeline Coalition, said she was not surprised by the purchase.

“I think it’s something they had to do to prove they are serious about moving forward with the project despite all the attempts to block them,” she said. “They still have a lot of easements and permitting to put together, but at the end of the day, I think it’s a waste of money.”

After Kinder Morgan’s announcement, Push Back The Pipeline quickly issued a statement praising the decision to stop work but called for the project to never go forward.

“Kinder Morgan, however, should do the right thing and announce that it is outright canceling this unnecessary project rather than simply suspending it,” said Steve Caley, legal director for GreenLaw, which has fought the project on behalf of the Savannah, Ogeechee, Altamaha, and Satilla riverkeepers and the Center for a Sustainable Coast before the Georgia Department of Transportation and Fulton County Superior Court.

“We’ve succeeded in stopping a bad project and need to continue to make sure that we close the discovered loopholes in both states’ (Georgia and South Carolina’s) laws to protect our citizens and their rights,” Bonitatibus said.

Ogeechee Riverkeeper Executive Director Emily Markesteyn said before the Wednesday announcement that she does not have an issue with the Bryan County land purchase but is continuing to monitor the situation closely.

“Our biggest concern is that a private company shouldn’t be able to use eminent domain to take land, and we’re still opposed to the pipeline,” she said. “We also have some concerns in general with any development at the Belfast Commerce Centre because of the nearby wetlands. There needs to be mitigation for any that are filled in.”

It is unclear whether there are any contingencies on the property sale if the terminal cannot be built. Neither Ruiz of Kinder Morgan nor Bill Cunningham of Raydient Places — a subsidiary of Rayonier, which is developing the Belfast Commerce Centre — would comment on that matter, citing confidentiality.

Managing editor Jason Wermers contributed to this report.

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