S. Georgia pipeline gets OK, despite concerns

A Texas pipeline builder got federal approval Thursday to begin 157 miles of construction across southwest Georgia to deliver gas to Florida.

The bulldozers could rumble any day now across five Georgia rivers, three state parks, thousands of acres of environmentally sensitive wetlands and Ted Turner’s quail hunting plantation near Albany.

Environmental groups, in something of a last-ditch legal maneuver, filed a lawsuit this week in Atlanta to stop the Sabal Trail pipeline. The Sierra Club, along with the Flint Riverkeeper and others, claim the Army Corps of Engineers failed to adequately review “the threats this project poses to this critical water supply.”

“The Floridan Aquifer, one of the largest freshwater aquifers in the world which supplies drinking water to millions of people in the southeastern United States, has a close connection to the water bodies and wetlands that will be negatively impacted or destroyed by” the pipeline, Steve Caley, the legal director for GreenLaw in Atlanta who’s representing property owners and environmental groups, said in a statement.

Houston-based Spectra Energy, Duke Energy of North Carolina, and Florida Power & Light want to run gas from Alabama through Georgia and into Florida along a 515-mile route. There’s no guarantee Georgia will receive any gas once the $3.2 billion project comes on line sometime next year.

Most federal and Georgia regulatory approvals have been granted, including permits to discharge dredge materials into wetlands. Thursday’s construction approval came from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, said Spectra spokeswoman Andrea Grover.

“Sabal Trail is confident in the comprehensive evaluation performed by the Army Corps prior to issuing the permits,” she said in a statement. “We are pleased to have reached such a milestone and we are prepared and ready to commence the groundwork.”

Grover said all property easements are acquired.

Much of the ground below southwest Georgia is limestone that allows water to flow easily between streams and springs. Leaks, critics fear, could send gas into the water supply.

Albany and Valdosta, as well as Dougherty and Lowndes counties, passed resolutions opposing the pipeline.

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