– By Tiffani Ireland –
June, 30 2015 – As previously reported by The Advertiser, Palmetto Products Pipe Line, LLC, a Kinder Morgan company, plans to run a new pipe line through sections of Edgefield County as part of an expansion project by the company. The proposed pipe line would run from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Collins and Pascagoula, Mississippi, and Belton, South Carolina to markets in North Augusta, SC, Savannah, Georgia, and Jacksonville, Florida. However, the pipe line has met with opposition and is not without controversy. Many citizens throughout the proposed areas in which the pipe line would run do not want the pipe line coming through their property. Others question the safety of the pipe line which would carry approximately 167,000 barrels a day of gasoline, both diesel and ethanol. Even the governor of Georgia has opposed the pipe line coming through that state. In fact, the project is currently stalled in Georgia, because there, Kinder Morgan had to seek permission from the head of that state’s Department of Transportation before they could initiate expansion in the state. However, earlier this month, Georgia DOT denied the company’s request to build a pipe line through the state. Kinder Morgan has appealed that decision. This process in Georgia is one step the state has set in place to protect private property owners from the use of imminent domain in the event those property owners do not wish to sell their land to Kinder Morgan. Currently, South Carolina (and Florida) does not have such protection for its land owners. However, local state representatives are working to correct that.
Called an “oversight” by one law maker, South Carolina’s weak protection against the use of imminent domain has been made apparent by Kinder Morgan’s expansion project. In a first step to correct this oversight, the entire Edgefield delegation, consisting of Senator Shane Massey and Representatives Bill Clyburn and Bill Hixon, along with other legislators, has appealed to the SC Attorney General for his opinion on the current imminent domain laws and whether or not Kinder Morgan will be able to use them to gain property in SC for their pipe line. As Rep. Bill Hixon explained in a recent interview with The Advertiser, “[The current law is] not clear on the legality they have on using imminent domain.” Sen. Massey, who also recently spoke with The Advertiser on this matter, said that law makers will use the attorney general’s opinion to see if the restrictions to the use of imminent domain needs to be tighter. In reminding that the attorney general’s opinion is just that, an opinion, and that Kinder Morgan will not be beholden to it, Sen. Massey agreed. However, he said that such opinions are often cited by the state’s Supreme Court, where they do carry weight, when deciding cases.
In addition to seeking the attorney general’s opinion on this matter, the Senate and the House of Representatives have introduced companion bills that will, according to Rep. Hixon, make “crystal clear” who can use imminent domain and what procedures they have to go through to use the laws. “I’m just trying to protect people’s property rights,” Rep. Hixon, who co-sponsored the bill in the House, said. Sen. Massey is a co-sponsor of the bill in the Senate.
The twin bills will not be taken up until the legislature’s January term. Even then, the bills have a procedure they must follow to be passed. As Sen. Massey reminded that it is a “huge hurdle to pass legislation anyway”, these bills may not pass both branches in time to offer protection to land owners in the case of the Kinder Morgan project. However, Sen. Massey also reminded that Kinder Morgan has “gotta get through Georgia first”, and that delay may give South Carolina the time needed to put stronger protection in place for its citizens.
If the bills in the SC Senate and House of Representatives can be passed in early 2016, then there will be added hurdles for Kinder Morgan in South Carolina. As Rep. Hixon explained, the proposed new law would make it necessary for the company to go through the Public Service Commission for its project’s approval. Kinder Morgan would have to overwhelmingly show the PSC that the project would benefit all the public. If and when they received PSC approval, Kinder Morgan would then have to apply for permits through the Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC).
Rep. Hixon reminded that even now, to be able to build a pipe line through SC, Kinder Morgan would have to apply for permits through DHEC. As of yet, the company has not applied for any permits in South Carolina. Representatives with the company are, however, still surveying the pipe line’s projected sites across the state. The company had told The Advertiser in our earlier coverage of their expansion plans that “Stakeholder Outreach” (gaining rights of way) would begin in the spring of this year. To this Rep. Hixon said, “Nothing stops them from negotiating with land owners right now.” However, for those land owners who do not wish to have the pipe line on their property or who wish to hold out until this matter plays out, Rep. Hixon said, “I’m there to help them – my land owner friends, and Kinder Morgan’s gonna have to help themselves.”
The SC Attorney General’s opinion on this issue is expected later this week. No time frame has been given on when Kinder Morgan may expect a ruling on their appeal in Georgia. The Advertiser will continue to follow this story and make updates as they become available.