By Maryvonne Devensky
The Sabal Trail pipeline project is not a done deal. Since January 2016, there has been a momentum in Georgia and Florida to oppose this project from citizens, county officials and groups because of very serious concerns.
Members of the Suwannee St Johns Sierra Club and Withlacoochee, Willacoochee, Alapaha, Little and Upper Suwannee River Watershed Coalition led a hike in the Suwannee River State Park to show how the area tagged for construction is full of sinkholes and how the Sabal Trail documentation is flawed. Besides, Johanna deGraffenreid, wetlands advocate with the Gulf Restoration Network, is coordinating efforts to make sure the public and our elected officials have the right information on the Sabal Trail project.
Included among our concerns, which we have cited with federal and state agencies, are risks to our Floridan Aquifer — which provides 60 percent of Florida’s drinking water. This pipeline is proposed to go over, through and under the karst geology that surrounds our water.
Independent geologists have shown that there are numerous sinkholes and water systems along the proposed route that are not in Sabal Trail documents. We have tried to add these to the record and to bring them to the attention of the company, with little success.
While the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has approved the project, that agency is facing six separate legal challenges to it. Additionally, the Army Corps of Engineers permit — which is the most important — has not been issued yet.
Both Suwannee and Hamilton county commissioners have requested additional study from the Corps of Engineers before the pipeline is allowed to proceed with construction. Recently, Marion County commissioners directed county staff to research the issue so they can write a letter to the Corps asking specific questions. Moreover, the water management districts also have to issue water usage permits before construction starts.
Several organizations, including Sierra Club, wrote a letter to the Land Water Conservation Fund this month insisting that the Sabal Trail project is not be allowed to threaten public parks and recreation areas. The Georgia House had an historic vote against the Sabal Trail river-drilling easements (34 in favor and 128 against) thanks to the combined efforts of organizations like Flint Riverkeeper, Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, WWALS and Greenlaw.
That is a major setback for Sabal Trail project. Where will the pipeline go if it cannot cross Georgia?
Spectra Energy, one of the primary companies behind the pipeline, has numerous safety and environment incidents on record, including a pipeline blowing up under the Arkansas River in Little Rock last May.
Suwannee County passed a resolution asking Sabal Trail to move its proposed Hildreth compressor station. Cancer, nosebleeds and cardiovascular problems have been linked to “fugitive methane” close to compressor stations.
Sabal Trail is suing local landowners for eminent domain to force them to give up pipeline easements. Why should your neighbors have to cut down trees and put up with pipeline encroachment forever in exchange for a paltry one-time payment?
If construction is allowed, there could be irreparable loss of habitat to several wildlife species. One example, in Dunnellon ,the Southwest Florida Water Management District has an important scrub jay preserve that is near the site of the proposed compressor station. Scrub jays are unique to Florida and are a listed species. Other species threatened are burrowing owls, Sherman’s fox squirrels, gopher tortoises and gopher frogs — all reported living on the proposed trail pipeline.
Last but not least, renewable energies such as solar and wind are growing leaps and bounds every day, creating new jobs and also creating energy that do not present any risk to our health and our environment as do oil and gas. Solar needs no eminent domain, no drilling and no water, and produces no exhaust.
So, if you feel the Sabal Trail project has too many risks and you want to support renewable energy in Florida, write to our state elected officials – or call them – and let them know what you think: The Sabal Trail Pipeline project is not a done deal and it should be reconsidered, if not simply abandoned.