Federal ruling seen as 'victory' for pipeline opponents

Sabal Trail pipeline under construction in Dougherty County. (Source: WALB)
Sabal Trail pipeline under construction in Dougherty County. (Source: WALB)
Published: Aug. 23, 2017 at 9:50 PM EDT|Updated: Feb. 27, 2018 at 4:53 PM EST
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Sabal Trail offices in Albany. (Source: WALB)
Sabal Trail offices in Albany. (Source: WALB)
(Source: WALB)
(Source: WALB)

DOUGHERTY CO., GA (WALB) - Opponents of an underground natural gas pipeline that runs through Southwest Georgia claim victory in a federal court order this week.

In a 2 to 1 ruling Tuesday, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit agreed with the Sierra Club, an environmental group, that the assessment of an environmental impact study on the Sabal Trail pipeline was "inadequate."

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) handled the assessment.

According to the ruling, FERC's work did not contain enough information on the greenhouse gas emissions that will result from burning the gas the pipelines will carry.

The court said "in all other respects, we conclude that FERC acted properly."

We spoke with one vocal opponent of the pipeline, Albany City Commissioner Roger Marietta, who thinks the ruling could impact the construction of a compressor station, a massive natural gas pump that is planned for construction in Dougherty County in 2020.

A spokesperson for Sabal said they don't think the ruling will have "an adverse effect on Sabal Trail's operations at this time."

Georgia ecological groups like the Flint Riverkeeper said the decision is a win for them.

"In terms of what this means for the life of this pipeline and whether or not it will be allowed to continue to operate, that's an open question. This is not a bad thing, it's a court victory," said Gordon Rogers with the Flint RiverKeepers.

Rogers said the group should have a clearer picture of what the vote means for the next several weeks.

Albany Pro-Tem Mayor Roger Marietta explained the ruling could be a landmark decision.

Albany, Dougherty County residents may not be able to stop the buzzing noise near the Sabal Trail staging area.

But they could prevent other environmental concerns the pipeline poses after Tuesday's court ruling.

"This ruling changes the landscape that they operate in now, they're not going to be able to make up their own environmental study," remarked Marietta.

"A billion cubic feet of gas a day," that's the amount former environmentalist Ron Vargo believed the pipeline emits.

Vargo lives within earshot from the pipeline in the Indian Creek subdivision.

He hopes the ruling will stop them from installing a pumping station, what he calls a 'ticking time bomb.'

"Just imagine if they have an explosion there, which I've been concerned about," explained Vargo.

The pumping station would be located near the intersection of West Oakridge and Lockett Station and smack dead in the wetlands, a huge reservoir of underground water that could pose grave dangers if disturbed.

"Cut down trees by the millions, you know and then plant a few grass seeds, you've changed the landscape and the environment," Marietta remarked.

Vargo stressed, "it's drawn from the whole southeast and if that ever gets contaminated we're in trouble."

The natural gas pipeline runs from Alabama to Florida, passing through parts of southwest Georgia.

Copyright 2017 WALB. All rights reserved.

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