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Tuesday, April 21, 2015 - 11:50pm

Pipeline Hearing Draws Overflow Crowd, Mostly Opposed To Palmetto

Hundreds of coastal Georgia residents turned out Tuesday night in Richmond Hill for the first official public hearing on the Palmetto Pipeline proposal - most to say they don't want it here.

The Houston-based energy company Kinder Morgan wants to build the 360-mile pipeline to carry oil and gas through South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. As a first step, the Georgia Department of Transportation is considering a request for a certificate that would allow the company to use eminent domain to acquire land.

Nancy Cunningham of Savannah was among roughly 500 people who filled the Richmond Hill City Center.

"The Kinder Morgan pipeline does not benefit anyone in Georgia," she said. "It is not convenient. It is not necessary. We don’t need it, we don’t want it, and we’re not gonna have it."

Dozens of other opponents spoke of concerns about environmental damage and the risk of an oil spill. A representative of a union that represents pipeline construction workers stood up to defend the plan.

Kinder Morgan officials say the $1 billion pipeline would create jobs and could help to reduce gas prices in the region.

Despite opposition from residents, company officials say they believe the Georgia DOT will approve their request to use eminent domain to build an oil pipeline.

Kinder Morgan's Vice President of Public Affairs, Allan Fore, spoke with reporters after the hearing.

"I think we’re going to be approved on the permit," Fore said. "Of course DOT has the ability to ask additional questions and even more information than they have; it’s totally within their purview. But remember, it’s just one step in the process."

If the Georgia Department of Transportation signs off on Kinder Morgan’s request, the project also would be subject to state and federal environmental reviews.

In a letter submitted to state regulators earlier this month, lawyers for Kinder Morgan argue that the Palmetto Pipeline would fill gaps in the region’s oil infrastructure, noting that the Savannah market currently receives oil by ship and truck.

The company submitted the letter in response to questions from the DOT about the public need for a pipeline. The letter also says the pipeline’s capacity would be more than 150,000 barrels per day, with at least half of that capacity being sold in Savannah and Augusta, Ga. It also would serve Jacksonville, Fla.

A second public hearing is scheduled for 5 p.m. May 7 at Augusta Technical College in Waynesboro.

The DOT is accepting public comments on Kinder Morgan's request through May 15, with a decision on the application expected by May 19.