2007-03-15 / Letters

Vote no on SB173 for property rights

TO THE EDITOR:

We would like to provide accurate information regarding Georgia Senate Bill 173 which addresses intrastate pipelines (those constructed entirely in our state) in hopes of clarifying the incomplete misinformation being circulated in our area.

Lobbied heavily by Colonial Pipeline, SB 173 was passed in the Senate early in March and is now in the Georgia House. Senator Ralph Hudgens, who does not represent Wilkes County, visited here during his now abandoned campaign bid for the late Congressman Norwood's seat. His general statements regarding SB 173, which he voted for, left some of our local citizens who questioned him with a very inaccurate impression of SB 173. This bill deals with much more than just one pipeline and one company. SB 173 could potentially eliminate the property rights of any Georgia property owner in any part of the state that lives within a mile of any existing pipeline or approved pipeline built in the future.

Petroleum pipeline companies are private entities and under current law do not have an automatic right of eminent domain. They must perform an evaluation of environmental impact before the power of eminent domain is granted to them by permit with monitoring requirements through the EPD. If SB 173 is signed into law, these evaluations and monitoring requirements will be abolished along with the requirement of "public need."

A legal summary of the bill revealed to us the following:

1. Senate Bill 173 takes away private property rights of landowners by granting unfettered power of eminent domain to pipeline companies;

2. All real property in Georgia existing within one mile on either side of an existing pipeline is affected by this bill;

3. This unchecked power of eminent domain may be exercised by natural gas companies as well as petroleum pipeline companies;

4. No pipeline company has ever attempted to utilize the current regulatory process to construct a new pipeline.

Not only will pipeline companies gain greater unchecked powers of eminent domain and landowners lose more rights over their private property, a serious and unpublicized detail of SB 173 is that all real property in Georgia within one mile on either side, or a total of 2 miles, of ANY existing pipeline could be potentially affected under certain circumstances.

Copies of the SB 173 as passed in the Senate, the legal summary, a legal analysis, maps, an update, and an Athens Banner-Herald article by Bill Shipp have been placed in the Mary Willis Library to provide complete and factual information regarding SB 173 to the public. This information may be copied. We hope all will take the time to thoroughly investigate this issue.

Time is crucial. The House is back in session or will be shortly. Yes, we need progress, energy, economic growth, etc, but things also need to be "fair and balanced." A very specific, not general, need should be stated and proven for each pipeline project. That defined and specific need should be very clear to everyone and not simply be a project to provide more profits for foreign oil companies at Georgia property/landowners' expense. Eminent domain in rural areas should no longer be considered the ONLY solution to energy problems in more industrialized and populated areas.

Our elected officials need to look out for the interests of their constituents first. Contact your representative and urge him or her to vote NO to SB 173.

CINDY BOUNDS DEBBIE BENNETT

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