State legislation that would expand the eminent domain powers of petroleum pipeline companies has local landowners raising the alarm.
If youre a property owner, you ought to be concerned about your rights being eroded, said Hal Storey, whose family owns land traversed by one of two petroleum pipelines running through Floyd County. No other private company has eminent domain rights in this state. Whos going to come next and want the same thing?
A Colonial Pipeline Co. line runs from Chattooga County into Dunaway Gap, traveling south to a terminal on Calhoun Road before veering eastward into Bartow County.
A line owned by Plantation Pipe Line Co. enters from Chattooga at Haywood Valley, runs through Richard B. Russell Regional Airport and along the East Rome Bypass before dropping south into Polk County.
Under Senate Bill 173, the companies would be able to condemn land within a mile on either side of their existing pipelines without having to prove a public need.
The measure passed the Senate, 43-11, and is awaiting a hearing in the House.
Paul Smith, president of the Floyd County Farm Bureau and a former state representative, said farmers are alert to the potential repercussions.
Its very disruptive when (pipelines) come in, and more so when they have to make repairs, Smith said. Also, land that, somewhere down the line, could be developed as a subdivision cant be used for residential if theres a pipeline on it.
Other lines unaffected
Supporters say the relaxation of restrictions is needed to ensure Georgia has a good supply of fuel for the future.
Colonial Pipeline Co. is planning to build a new line from a Louisiana refinery to Cobb County but could be blocked if the bill is not signed into law.
State Sen. Preston Smith, R-Rome, said the legislation is narrowly drawn to cover only petroleum pipelines and merely eliminates extra hoops that other utility companies do not face in seeking expansions.
Thats the way it was described to us, he said. If it turns out to be different, I wouldnt support it when it comes back to us from the House.
At issue is a certificate of public convenience and necessity, showing a proposed condemnation is for the common good.
State law regulating public utilities calls for gas, phone and electric companies to apply for a certificate through the Public Service Commission before expansions and certain other activities.
Petroleum companies are not regulated by the PSC. The law that SB 173 would change requires them to go through the Georgia Department of Transportation, under a separate section of the state code that applies to eminent domain.
Bill moves to the House
The bill is just now starting to appear on the radar of Floyd Countys delegates to the House.
State Rep. Katie Dempsey, R-Rome, said she skimmed through the legislation at the request of a constituent but will withhold comment until more information becomes available at hearings.
State Rep. Barry Loudermilk, R-Cassville, has been focused on bills hes shepherding through the House, but the vocal opponent of eminent domain said he intends sharp scrutiny when SB 173 gets to his desk.
The two Democrats in the Floyd County legislative delegation said they have been watching the bills progress for some time.
We have quite a few people in Floyd and Chattooga counties whose property is along the pipeline, said state Rep. Barbara Massey Reece, D-Menlo. I havent studied the bill yet, but I feel it has the potential to intrude on their rights.
There dont seem to be a lot of safeguards.
State Rep. Rick Crawford, D-Cedartown, was more definite saying he is absolutely opposed to the measure.
It is directly contrary to all the rhetoric about property rights we heard during the election season, he said. It removes a lot of the protections that have been put in place, and we dont need it.
The bill will likely be assigned to the House Regulated Industries Committee when the legislature reconvenes March 19.