Three surveyors working on the Palmetto Pipeline project were booked into the Screven County jail Wednesday on charges of criminal trespass.
A sheriff’s deputy had ordered the men off a private farm Saturday and obtained warrants Monday for criminal trespass. They were identified as Emmett Horn, Darrell Alexander and Barry Kilgore, of SGC Engineering LLC, the survey company hired by pipeline giant Kinder Morgan.
All three suspects were released from jail Wednesday evening after posting $1,000 bonds, according to officials for the Screven County Sheriff’s Office.
The surveyors had traveled deep into the property before a Millhaven Company LLC employee spotted their truck, said Brigham Sanders, the Millhaven general manager.
Kinder Morgan was aware it does not have permission to do survey work, Sanders said.
Screven County Sheriff Mike Kile said he made the decision to obtain the warrants.
“They entered without permission,” Kile said. “You can’t do that on other people’s property if they tell you to stay out.”
Kinder Morgan has sent notices to landowners requesting permission to survey property through which the planned pipeline is currently routed. At an April 21 Georgia Department of Transportation hearing in Richmond Hill, Kinder Morgan Vice President Allen Fore said “over 90 percent of those we’ve contacted over survey permission have allowed us survey permission.”
Executives at Millhaven, a 20,000-plus-acre property planted in row crops and timber, directed the company not to enter the property, but its surveyors did so anyway, Sanders said.
The farm is owned by the family of William S. Morris III, the chairman and CEO of Morris Communications, the owner of The Augusta Chronicle.
At a recent DOT hearing, Morris was the first of dozens to give public comment against the pipeline.
Surveying plates with the company logo were found on the Millhaven property, indicating SGC Engineering expected to return, Deputy Sheriff Marcus Helms wrote in his report. He also made note that the company had been there previously and that he planned to investigate that trespassing incident, too.
The surveyors, all out-of-state residents, told Helms they were following their company’s directives and surveying based on GPS coordinates they were provided. Warned that they could be charged with criminal trespass, the supervisor, Horn, said they had finished but needed to retrieve equipment.
“Mr. Horn then made the comment: ‘You can’t stop the pipeline; they have enough money to push the pipeline through the county,’ ” Helms’ incident report says.
Maine-based SGC Engineering referred inquiries about the trespassing charge to Kinder Morgan.
“We understand that the contractors inadvertently backed up their vehicles from a public road (Gin House Road) onto a private farm road and that constituted the alleged trespassing,” Kinder Morgan spokeswoman Melissa Ruiz said Tuesday afternoon. “Kinder Morgan’s policy is to not access private property for which survey permission has been denied, and we apologize for the error.”
Millhaven’s general manager pointed to the sheriff’s report for corroboration that the trespassing involved more than an inadvertent backup.
“I measured the distance from the public road and they trespassed 1.7 miles onto Millhaven Co. LLC property,” the report states.
Kile expects a court date for the trespassing charge to be set in June or July.
Kinder Morgan plans to spend more than $1 billion on the 16-inch-diameter steel pipeline that would route gasoline, ethanol and diesel from the Gulf Coast and from South Carolina to North Augusta, Savannah, Ga., and Jacksonville, Fla.
The pipeline requires a 50-foot permanent easement along a proposed route that parallels the Savannah River, then heads south to Jacksonville.
The company applied Feb. 13 to the DOT for a certificate of public convenience and necessity, the first of two steps before it can be granted the right to exercise eminent domain along the 210 miles of the route in Georgia.
DOT Commissioner Russell McMurry expects to decide on the certificate May 19.
Staff Writer Doug Stutsman contributed to this article.