Panel delays one day on pipeline pause bill

 Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story misidentified Henry Morgan and should have said Colonial Oil is based in Savannah.




ATLANTA — The chairman of a subcommittee considering a moratorium on petroleum pipeline construction delayed a vote for one day Tuesday to work out problems he said were in the wording of the bill.

The Energy Subcommittee of the House Energy, Utilities and Telecommunications Committee heard testimony from nine witnesses in favor of House Bill 1036 and none opposed it. The bill by Rep. Bill Hitchens, R-Rincon, would halt all construction and create a 13-member commission to study procedures for giving private pipeline companies the legal authority to seize private land – a process known as eminent domain.

Hitchens said the bill aims to stop Texas-based Kinder Morgan from building a 200-mile pipeline roughly along the Savannah River from Belton, S.C., to Jacksonville, Fla.

Last year, Russell McMurry, the commissioner of the Georgia Department of Transportation, denied the company’s application for eminent domain power, and the company appealed to a Fulton County (Ga.) Superior Court that has not made a ruling yet.

“If we allow this (pipeline) to go forward now, I don’t think there’s any stopping it,” Hitchens said.

Company officials have said the pipeline could result in lower gasoline prices in Savannah because it would be more efficient than trucking the fuel from Colonial Pipeline terminals in Macon or Augusta or from the two ocean terminals in Savannah. But property owners along its likely route, as Hitchens told the subcommittee, don’t want to see it on their land.

“I think it is morally wrong for a for-profit company to make money off of my hard labor for its investors,” said Lucretia Norman, who owns 270 acres near Folkston, Ga.

Ryan Chandler, a vice president for Savannah-based Colonial Pipeline, said Kinder Morgan is trying to use eminent domain to begin competing against Colonial, which has never used it.

“We’ve earned our business the old fashioned way. If we needed property, we bought it,” Chandler said.

Norman was one of three property owners, along with Alan Zipperer from Rincon and Henry Morgan from near Savannah, who made the trip to Atlanta for the hearing. Other witnesses were lobbyists for environmental groups, tree farmers and a new property owners association called Landowners for Property Rights.

Subcommittee Chairman Chuck Martin, R-Alpharetta, didn’t say whether he supported the bill. He did schedule another meeting for Wednesday for the panel to act on a revised version he said he would recommend to Hitchens to correct some wording problems.

Martin’s willingness to hurry means the bill could be voted on by the full House before the end of Monday, the deadline for bills to be acted on by either the House or Senate in order to remain viable this legislative session.

The chairman of the full committee, Rep. Don Parsons, R-Marietta, and House Majority Leader Jon Burns, R-Newington, also attended the subcommittee meeting, suggesting the bill is important to the House leadership.

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