JUNO BEACH, FLORIDA – An attorney for Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, one of three environmental groups that have asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to stop construction on three Southeastern pipeline projects, said its primary concerns are the impacts the $3.2 billion Sabal Trail Pipeline project will have on the Chattahoochee River, its tributaries and the communities along those waterways.  

The Sierra Club, Chattahoochee Riverkeeper and Flint Riverkeeper filed an emergency motion to stop the construction on Oct. 24. The groups, which are based in Georgia, Alabama and Florida, said they want the appeals court to put the project on hold until they can decide whether to appeal the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) approval of the projects.


Kevin Jeselnik, staff attorney with the Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, said the Sabal Trail project will supply natural gas to Florida, shipping it from Alabama through Southwest Georgia.


After going through Georgia, the pipeline will extend into Florida. A total of 126 miles of the 685-mile project is slated to begin in central Florida and run to Martin County. After that, existing pipelines will be used to carry the natural gas to Florida Power & Light Co.’s Riviera Beach and Port Everglades facilities.


The environmental groups have said they believe the pipeline projects would also cause harm along the Suwannee and Santa Fe rivers in Florida.


“It provides no product or benefits to Georgia, yet it crosses at least three of our rivers or streams and impacts a number of lower income and minority communities that so often have to bear the risk of these potentially dangerous pipeline routes,” Jeselnik told the Florida Record.


Jeselnik said pipelines, like the ones being constructed as part of the Sabal Trail project, can rupture and explode. In fact, he said this sort of explosion happened last year on the Arkansas River.


“The potential for such a disaster is compounded along the proposed route through Georgia because it will be buried in sinkhole-prone karst terrain prevalent in the area,” Jeselnik said. “It’s irresponsible to site a natural gas pipeline in soils and regions that increase the risk of explosions and releases of the natural gases.”


According to Jeselnik, FERC has a responsibility to the American people, particularly those impacted by these unnecessary pipeline projects.


“The agency needs to work for the citizens rather than rubber-stamping any project the industry proposes,” he said.


Steven D. Caley, the legal director at GreenLaw who filed the lawsuit on behalf of the environmental groups, said the pipeline is not needed given advances in energy, efficiency and renewable forms of energy.


“It will lock us into dirty fossil fuels for several more decades when cost-competitive renewable forms of energy are available, particularly solar in the 'Sunshine State,'” Caley told the Florida Record.


In addition, Caley said the pipeline companies “will use the heavy hand of eminent domain to forcibly take citizens' private property for the companies’ private profit.”


Caley said the project will decimate the environment, totally destroying thousands of acres of forests and forested wetlands. He also said Spectra Energy, one of the primary owners of the project, has a documented history of pipeline accidents, explosions and regulatory fines for safety and poor maintenance issues.


The Sabal Trail project is owned by Duke Energy, which holds a 7.5 percent stake, Spectra Energy Partners, which holds a 59.5 percent stake, and Florida Power & Light parent NextEra Energy, which holds a 33 percent stake.


The pipeline projects are currently scheduled to be completed by May 2017. Caley said on Nov. 8 that a ruling on the request to halt the project and on emergency consideration of the groups’ appeal was expected “in the next few days.”


“If the case is not expedited, we likely will not receive a decision until the fall of 2017,” Caley said. “The pipeline will be fully constructed by that time.”


Together, the three projects encompass the Southeast Market Pipelines.


FERC granted approval of the pipeline construction projects to Sabal Trail Transmission LLC, Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Co. LLC and Florida Southeast Connection LLC in February.

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