Southwest Georgia pipeline gets federal OK

A highly controversial gas pipeline across Southwest Georgia gained near-final approval this week when the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission signed-off on the project.

The Sabal Trail pipeline, which would run 516 miles from Alabama through 9 Georgia counties and into Florida, only needs a federal wetlands permit and a state air-quality permit before construction begins, perhaps as early as May. Construction would take a year.

Environmental groups might appeal FERC’s ruling, but the appelate track record isn’t encouraging. Lawsuits are also under consideration.

Spectra Energy, the Texas-based pipeline builder, wants to deliver 1 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day to Florida. The proposed route would mostly follow existing utility rights-of-way. It would also cross under the Chattahoochee, Flint, Withlacoochee and Ochlocknee rivers. Spectra says the pipe will be buried at least 32 feet below any stream.

“We are very pleased to reach this significant milestone and move one step closer to construction of the pipeline, which will diversify the region’s energy sources,” Sabal Trail Management President Bill Yardley said in a statement.

Sabal Trail is the second major pipeline roiling Georgians. The fate of the $1 billion Palmetto Pipeline, planned to carry gas, diesel and ethanol across 23 east Georgia counties and into Florida, rests with a Fulton County Superior Court judge. The state sided with landowners last May against pipeline builder Kinder Morgan which sued. The judge’s decision is expected any day.