COLUMBIA — Instead of creating a permanent ban on the ability of private, for-profit pipeline companies to purchase land against property owners’ wishes, South Carolina legislators are now considering a ban that lasts only five years.
Sen. Tom Young, the Aiken Republican sponsoring the legislation, said the “sunset” provision strengthens its chance of passage. Some lawmakers had expressed objections about the original bill’s permanence.
“This is a legislative process. The goal is to get a bill passed,” Young said.
“I think too often we make it harder to get a bill passed when it appears to be more permanent,” said Sen. Larry Martin, R-Pickens, who supports the new five-year limit in Young’s bill. “If you can give folks at least the prospect that we’re going to have to go back and revisit it, I think it makes it a little easier to pass it.”
Sen. Floyd Nicholson, a co-sponsor, said five years “will be ample time to know exactly if there are any changes that need to be made.”
A separate bill would create a study committee that would make recommendations on use of eminent domain during the summer of 2017.
Savannah Riverkeeper Tonya Bonitatibus, a chief opponent of the pipeline, expressed dismay at the five-year limit.
“The sunset clause is unfortunate but required at this point to get through,” she said. Still, she expressed confidence that the study committee would “come up with a good, solid plan to protect South Carolina.”
No one is calling the pending change a “moratorium,” regardless of its duration, because many say South Carolina law already prohibits pipeline giant Kinder Morgan from using eminent domain to obtain private land in the project’s path.
A state attorney general opinion last year left some doubt on whether the Texas-based company was prohibited from taking landowners’ property in the event that a sale could not be worked out.
Lawmakers emphasize that the measure is aimed at making the law explicitly clear.
Nicholson, D-Greenwood, supports the proposed 360-mile Palmetto Pipeline, which would carry up to 7 million gallons a day of gasoline, diesel and ethanol from Belton, S.C., through Georgia and to Jacksonville, Fla. He said it would be a boost to financially struggling rural communities, and that constituents he’s spoken with are pleased with the potential to pocket money from a property sale.
“In my counties, nobody has said anything in opposition to it,” said Nicholson, who also represents Abbeville, McCormick and Saluda counties. “At first one individual did, then I think they found out what they could get, and I think they got quiet.”
Edgefield Mayor Ken Durham said Wednesday that Kinder Morgan estimates the project will contribute $750,000 to $1 million in tax revenue to Edgefield County. The city of Edgefield, however, is not expected to be touched by the construction, he said.
“I know it’s a political hot cake right now in many ways, but I’m a supporter of it,” Durham said, calling Kinder Morgan “a very solid company.” But he said he opposes the company’s use of eminent domain.