The Gainesville Sun has published an editorial today, Aug. 19, 2016 which basically depicts Sabal Trail as the bully, and correctly faults our regulatory agencies for rubber-stamping. The writer says “…no one listened.” Sad and true.
Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
-A river is like a life: once taken, it cannot be brought back-
Public pushed aside by pipeline
Posted Aug 19, 2016 at 2:01 AM Updated at 8:31 AM
Construction of the controversial Sabal Trail natural gas pipeline was given final federal approval last week, following nearly three years of spirited and sustained opposition from residents, environmentalists and state and local governments along its 516-mile route. In the end, the public’s fears seemed to matter little.
Sabal Trail, a partnership of Spectra Energy, Duke Energy and Florida Power & Light, will run from central Alabama to South Florida, including a small piece of Alachua County. Proponents say the pipeline is needed to ensure an adequate supply of natural gas to the state’s two largest power companies. Opponents argued the plan and path was too intrusive by taking private properties using eminent domain, disrupting wetlands and natural habitats, and going under a number of waterways, including the Suwannee, Santa Fe and Withlacoochee rivers.
In short, proponents said the pipeline was needed to ensure Florida’s energy future, while opponents responded that Sabal Trail was calling the shots and there was little real oversight from the federal government, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Most of the environmental assessments were done by Sabal Trail and only reviewed by the feds.
The lack of stewardship shown by the feds is astounding.
When the EPA announced last winter that it had serious concerns about the pipeline’s environmental impact on many segments of the route, especially regarding water supply, the anti-pipeline crowd cheered. When the agency announced just a couple months later that everything was fine — without any specifics to back it up — it did not add up.
After all, dozens of local governments raised concerns about the pipeline’s impact on local water supplies and water recharge areas. The 36-inch pipeline will run within a mile of Rainbow Springs, yet regulators and Sabal Trail insist it will have no adverse impact on these natural features. Seriously.
When the Army Corps was asked to evaluate karst areas and look at the sinkhole potential burying the pipe would cause, it turned to Sabal Trail and its scientific data. They could have walked the path and surely would have found numerous karst areas, but to do that they would actually have to examine the pipeline’s path.
We understand and applaud Duke’s and FP&L’s desire to convert more power generation to natural gas. It is cheaper and cleaner. But to bury a 3-foot pipe through more than 200 miles of Florida landscape and declare — as Sabal Trail, the EPA and Army Corps all have — that it will not have an adverse effect on the environment is an insult to the public’s intelligence. Too many such projects, accompanied by the same assurances, have gone bad.
Should anyone wonder why people are losing faith in our public institutions, they only need look at the Sabal Trail project. Despite objections that people are being forced from their homes, despite objections that the pipeline will have devastating environmental impacts, despite objections that Gov. Rick Scott (he was a stockholder in Spectra) and other public officials are too cozy with the pipeline’s owners, no one listened.
The Army Corps gave its final approval last Thursday, the FERC gave its final OK last Friday and Spectra planned to begin construction this week — using pipe it has been stockpiling near Lake City for some time. Now three environmental groups will take a last shot at stopping the project with a lawsuit filed this week.
— A version of this editorial originally appeared in the Ocala Star-Banner, one of The Sun’s sister publications.