South Georgia pipeline moves forward

022315 VALDOSTA: Professor Don Thieme, Valdosta State University, checks the water color and clarity in a sinkhole called Shadrick's Pond, that is rarely full of water, by the Withlacoochee River after recent heavy rainfall on Monday, Feb. 23, 2015, in Valdosta. The sinkhole is near the site of a proposed pipleline that would cross the Withlacoochee River causing many opponents concern the pipeline could be compromised by sinkholes that occur in the area and contaminate local water sources. Curtis Compton / ccompton@ajc.com

VALDOSTA: Professor Don Thieme, Valdosta State University, checks the water color and clarity in a sinkhole called Shadrick’s Pond by the Withlacoochee River. The sinkhole is near the site of a proposed pipeline that would cross the Withlacoochee River. Curtis Compton / ccompton@ajc.com

The proposed Sabal Trail natural gas pipeline cleared another regulatory hurdle Wednesday with state approval for the pipeline to pass under five Southwest Georgia rivers and creeks.

The unanimous vote by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ board doesn’t sanction the pipeline to run 157 miles across Georgia while crossing the Chattahoochee, Flint, Withlacoochee and Ochlocknee rivers. Additional state and federal reviews, and votes, are necessary before digging begins.

Pipeline opponents, though, hoped that the board would slow Sabal Trail’s seemingly inexorable push to deliver gas to Florida. They cited ongoing safety, environmental and property rights concerns held by thousands of Southwest Georgia residents.

Spectra Energy, the pipeline builder, received preliminary environmental approval earlier this month from Washington. Gus McLachlan, a Spectra official, told board members that the pipeline would be buried at least 32 feet below any stream.

Sabal Trail is the lesser known, at least in Metro Atlanta, of the two major pipeline projects proposed for Georgia. Kinder Morgan wants to build a petroleum pipeline from South Carolina through Augusta and Savannah to Florida.

The state’s transportation commissioner killed, albeit temporarily, the Palmetto Pipeline project in May. The company appealed the decision. A hearing is now scheduled for November in Fulton County Superior Court.

Sabal Trail opponents have a few opportunities yet to slow or kill their pipeline. DNR must approve an air quality permit for the pipeline’s compressor station. The General Assembly must sign off on the river-skirting rules. And the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission must give its final blessing.

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