It’s time for more people and organizations, especially Congress members, to ask the Corps for a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, after Sabal Trail side-stepped many of the questions in a 130-page claim that it had already addressed every recent point from U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop GA-02, WWALS Watershed Coalition, Flint Riverkeeper, and Dennis Price P.G. in recent letters to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. If karst concerns alone were enough to move Sabal Trail off of the Withlacoochee River in Florida, and the Itchetucknee River, and to move it to a different crossing for the Santa Fe River, they should be enough to move it off the Suwannee River, where the conditions are quite similar.
In case anybody wondered whether Sabal Trail is watching the web for anything posted by its opponents, note where Sabal Trail said in its included 6 June 2016 letter to Mark R. Evans of the Corps that it first saw Sanford Bishop’s letter:
Sabal Trail Transmission, LLC (“Sabal Trail”) has received and reviewed the letter from United States Representative Sanford D. Bishop, Jr. (D-GA) dated May 27, 2016 (the “Letter”) addressed to the Army Corps of Engineers (“Corps”) Districts of Mobile, Savannah, and Jacksonville, with copies to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Environmental Protection Division, Watershed Protection Branch and each of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC”) commissioners. The Letter was posted on the website for WWALS Watershed Coalition, Inc. (“WWALS”), on or about May 30, 2016, and on the FERC docket for Sabal Trail on June 2, 2016. Sabal Trail appreciates the opportunity to address and respond to the concerns expressed in the Letter, all of which have been comprehensively and exhaustively addressed in both federal and state proceedings.
Yep, on the WWALS website May 27th, and this part of that blog post is even more true now after this stonewalling by Sabal Trail:
I’m sure we’re all looking forward to similar requests from Austin Scott GA-07, in whose Congressional district Sabal Trail would cross Okapilco Creek and the Withlacoochee River, and in which Moultrie, Valdosta, and the counties of Colquitt, Brooks, and Lowndes passed resolutions against the pipeline. And especially from Ted Yoho FL-03, in whose district Sabal Trail would cross the Suwannee and Santa Fe Rivers through the most vulnerable recharge area of the Floridan Aquifer in the Florida Springs Heartland, and in which the counties of Hamilton, Suwannee, and Marion have already sent letters to the Corps, like Rep. Bishop just asked for a Supplementary Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS).
The Sabal Trail letter to the Corps continues:
The Letter raises four primary concerns: (1) whether karst and site conditions were adequately evaluated; (2) whether there is a need for a supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (“EIS”); (3) whether FERC improperly segmented its review of the Southeast Marketplace Pipeline Project (“Project”); and (4) whether FERC violated Section 401 of the Clean Water Act (“CWA”). We address each of these concerns below. All of our responses refer back to information found in FERC’s Final EIS (“FEIS”) or other Sabal Trail informational and technical submittals to various federal and state agencies, as these issues have been raised by others previously and Sabal Trail has addressed them extensively. We want to ensure that the Corps has a complete record of information on these very important topics, however, and that is the purpose of this response.
(1) ALL NECESSARY AND APPROPRIATE KARST SITE CONDITIONS WERE EVALUATED
The Letter states that there is “significant evidence from WWALS Watershed Coalition, Inc., Flint Riverkeeper and many other environmental organizations of sinkholes, springs, and the underground transmission of water for many miles that were not included in the [FERC FEIS].” Consequently, the Letter requests that the Corps “perform a site inspection to determine the actual proximity of active sinkholes and other features of the aquifer and cave systems to the proposed pipeline route, as well as underground transmissivity for greater distances.” Contrary to the assertions of these organizations, the FEIS analysis of the effect of karst terrain on the integrity of the pipeline is comprehensive. Environmental and safety issues related to the siting of the Project in karst terrain have also been addressed through the myriad of state and federal environmental permitting processes undertaken by Sabal Trail. The organizations mentioned in the Letter have presented no new information to suggest that additional site inspections or analysis of these issues is warranted.
Searching for “transmissivity” in the 130-page FERC filing, I find no other occurence of that word. I’ll keep searching; maybe it’s hidden in there somewhere.
Sabal Trail’s massive missive also includes a letter to the Corps about the WWALS April 2016 letter to the Corps. Sabal Trail’s main ploy is to claim everything in the WWALS letter was already litigated in WWALS v Sabal Trail & FDEP, which is plainly not the case, because for example the USGS evidence about 15-mile underground transmissivity near Valdosta, Georgia was never mentioned in that Florida case, and would not have been admitted by that Florida judge.
Sabal Trail once again claims “need” was demonstrated by the Florida Public Service Commission saying Sabal Trail has customers, and by Sabal Trail’s spurious side-taps into Georgia counties that don’t need the gas, including Colquitt County, which doesn’t even have natural gas distribution infrastructure. Colquitt County, whose county seat, Moultrie, told FERC,
“Sabal has failed to present any evidence of the need to expand natural gas in this area”.
Colquitt County, whose Chairman sent a February 2016 letter to FERC claiming for Colquitt County alone the entire $755 million “one-year construction benefit” Sabal Trail cites on its website for the entire three-state pipeline project.
Nevermind if Florida Power and Light improved energy efficiency as much as Georgia Power and Southern Company have done, FPL’s alleged “need” for new power would probably evaporate. And never mind that FPL’s “modernization” of coal plants could be accomplished by converting them not to fracked methane, rather to solar power in the Sunshine State.
But this is the richest part in Sabal Trail’s letter to the Corps about WWALS:
Finally, WWALS mischaracterizes actions taken by the Georgia legislature with respect to easements requested by the Project for six crossings of five State-owned waterbodies (not including Okapilco Creek, as claimed by WWALS). The easement requests were before the legislature as part of the annual omnibus bill for conveyances of State property, which contained the requests of Sabal Trail and several other entities for easements across State lands for infrastructure construction and expansion projects. Sabal Trail’s requests were not approved by the legislature in large part because of objections voiced by legislators that were unrelated to the Project’s requests in the bill. Further, the legislature was not charged with considering the need for the Project in determining whether to approve the easements. FERC regulates natural gas pipeline construction projects in the public interest, and it definitively determined that there is a public need for the Project in February 2016 when it issued a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity authorizing construction and operation. Contrary to WWALS’ assertion, the Georgia legislature did not make a determination of public need for the Project during the legislative session, rather it simply failed to approve a routine real estate transaction involving State property. Sabal Trail continues to work with the State of Georgia regarding the necessary easements for the Project, which has been approved by FERC as being in the public interest.
Yes, how dare the Georgia legislature stand up for its own citizens against the pipeline invader! Surely elected officials everywhere must knuckle under to the demand for profit by a company from Houston, Texas. A company that apparently thinks it knows better than those elected legislators what they meant when they debated and voted.
There is one interesting point in there, about Okapilco Creek, which we will go back and examine. Not that that affects the main point about the rivers, including the Withlacoochee River in Georgia.
Sabal Trail fails to quote the 128 to 34 Georgia House vote denying those river-drilling easements, and it fails to mention the historic nature of that vote.
Sabal Trail’s letter gets even better:
Furthermore, the action of the Georgia legislature in approving a different bill, HB 1036 (an eighteen-month moratorium on eminent domain for petroleum products pipelines), was not in any way related to the Sabal Trail project. HB 1036 concerned the State’s approval process that is limited to liquid petroleum products pipelines, as opposed to natural gas. Construction of liquid pipelines is not federally regulated in the same manner that natural gas pipeline construction is; rather, construction projects for new liquid pipeline infrastructure depend upon state-by-state environmental review and approval, rather than the centralized FERC approval needed for interstate natural gas pipeline construction. WWALS erroneously characterizes the legislature’s action with respect to HB 1036 as a categorical rejection of all new pipeline infrastructure in the State, but, again, it is a bill solely focused on the State’s process for approving liquid pipelines.
We made no such characterization, Sabal Trail. Quite the opposite: we carefully spelled out what HB 1036 was for:
That same week, the Georgia legislature approved in HB 1036 an eighteen-month moratorium, pending review of environmental permitting procedures, on eminent domain for petroleum products pipelines  such as the Palmetto Project Kinder Morgan wanted to build from South Carolina across every Georgia coastal river to Jacksonville, Florida.  Kinder Morgan the next week acknowledged that rejection by suspending its Palmetto pipeline,  explicitly citing that moratorium as the reason. 
Ah, here finally is something about underground transmissivity, without using that word:
4. Lateral movement of contaminants in groundwater from sinkholes to wells.
WWALS asserts (again, without basis) that sinkholes that may form as the result of pipeline construction could be entry points to the groundwater flow system for contaminants that would be drawn to the City of Valdosta’s water supply wells. As stated in the second response above, the vast majority of sinkholes that form in the region are of the subsidence type, which tend to be slow forming, relatively small, and shallow. If they should form during construction, they can be quickly and easily remediated so that the movement of sediments into the flow system can be avoided or minimized. The potential for the flow system to be contaminated during pipeline construction is therefore minimal. Even if contaminants somehow entered the flow system as the result of pipeline construction, the City of Valdosta is located approximately 15 miles to the east of the Withlacoochee River HDD crossing. The City of Valdosta’s 2014 Water Quality Report states that the travel time of groundwater from a sinkhole on the Withlacoochee River to the City’s wellfield, a distance of 3 miles, is approximately 75 years. This extremely slow travel time combined with the fact that groundwater in the aquifer at the Withlacoochee HDD crossing moves to the west, away from Valdosta, makes it impossible that contaminated water entering the Floridan aquifer as a result of the HDD crossing, could contaminate Valdosta’s wellfield. As mentioned above, Sabal Trail’s Karst Mitigation Plan and Characterization Study anticipate the potential for such issues and provide proactive avoidance measures as well as appropriate, industry standard mitigation protocols.
Note Sabal Trail says “(again, without basis)” without addressing the evidence in the WWALS letter. And Sabal Trail’s response says nothing about sinkholes that might form after construction. Further, it claims that it is “impossible” for any contamination from pipeline construction could get to Valdosta’s wellfield, while ignoring the well-established evidence that directions of underground flow can change over time, and saying nothing about any other wells.
But don’t worry! As Sabal Trail does note, water moves slowly underground, so you might not know about any contamination for years or decades, and Sabal Trail could easily be long gone by then.
More later after WWALS has more time to examine Sabal Trail’s 130-page FERC filing, Accession Number: 20160607-5134, “Sabal Trail Transmission, LLC submits its Response to Letter from U.S. Representative Sanford D. Bishop, Jr. under CP15-17.”
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