“There’s nothing we can do,” said Lowndes County Commissioners about the proposed Sabal Trail pipeline, after the Chairman refused to let a citizen speak during the 25 February 2014 Lowndes County Commission Regular Session. But there are things local governments can do, as other local governments and elected officials have already demonstrated.
Citizen Carol Singletary drove 100 miles to get there. As Chairman Bill Slaughter asked for a motion to adjourn the meeting, she said she called in to say she wanted to speak. Slaughter responded,
You have to fill out the paperwork and everything in order.
Phillip Singletary said he did, and it was in the Commission Chamber entranceway.
The Chairman did not relent; “just do it next week; next time”. Nevermind that he has let people speak who hadn’t turned in the paperwork before the meeting started (we have videos). He even let pipeline reps speak from the audience without coming up to the podium and didn’t let any citizens speak at the Spectra sales pitch back in December.
Commissioner John Page moved to adjourn, and added that he would like to see Ms. Singletary after the meeting. Chairman agreed, somebody seconded, and they voted to adjourn.
Do elected Commissioners now have to get a vote of the Commission to talk to citizens?
Here’s the video of that part.
After the meeting, Commissioner Demarcus Marshall came up to talk to the citizens first, asking what happened when she called in. She said she got an answering machine and left a message, which apparently nobody picked up.
Chairman Bill Slaughter added that he knew of no rule that allowed people to call ahead. Well, he could just make one up, like he did that fifteen minute rule for the trash discussion last June.
What we’re going to do is no different from what you’re doing. We’re going to speak on behalf of Lowndes County. Lowndes County does have concerns about the whole process. And we have to insure it’s addressed. We have the same opportunity that you have in the comment process, and that’s what we’ll do.
He asked if Singletary had read what’s on the county’s website. Which is good as far as it goes, but there’s more the county can do, part of which I had just mentioned to the Commission a few minutes earlier, and more of which is mentioned below.
Carol Singletary asked,
Since you’re my representatives, would you speak to the concerns that the citizens of Lowndes County have, not just the few [inaudible], but as representatives of us citizens of this county….
I don’t mind at all speaking on your behalf on the issues that I have addressed earlier, that each one of the property owners is treated with the utmost respect….
The county, there’s very little we can do. We’re just in the same situation that you’re in as a property owner….
No, the County Commission is not in the same position as an individual property owner! Is there some other body around here elected by all the people of Lowndes County?
Singletary asked again, and Slaughter answered,
So you’re asking me then to speak on behalf of all the citizens that’s affected.
She clarified that she meant at least for the citizens who have concerns.
Slaughter had no response.
What does it say in front of his seat up there on the high podium in the county palace, whence he just refused to let her speak during the session? And where he sat back in June when he first tried to abdicate any responbility for representing the citizens of the county regarding this pipeline. Does it not say Chairman? If the Chairman doesn’t speak for all the citizens of the county, who does?
Commissioner John Page interjected,
There’s nothing we can do, to my knowledge, other than just express our opinions, our concerns.
Well, you could pass an ordinance for pipeline depth, or zoning, like FERC expressly said in a court case it would try to take into account. You know ordinances; the Commission has passed them to abolish the county’s waste collection centers without a public hearing and to limit who can speak to the Commission. You know, that very same ordinance the Chairman invoked at adjournment to stop Carol Singletary from speaking. Elected Commissions can pass ordinances. Individual citizens or businesses cannot. Individuals and businesses and elected governments are not the same.
The Commissioner who made the motions for both of those ordinances, Richard Raines, did not stop to speak to the Singletarys.
Chairman Bill Slaughter added,
We as property owners have concerns from a similar standpoint.
Silly me, I thought the citizens of Lowndes County were the owners of the county’s property, not the specific current elected Commissioners. And I thought the County Commission was elected to represent the citizens, not to act like a private corporation.
Specifically, where the pipeline is going to cross the road, what the depth is [inaudible] roadbed. We have questions, and we’re going to be addressing those questions
Later he also mentioned property rights and taxes as questions, and I think he mentioned wetlands.
Well, Commissioners sure didn’t ask those questions back in December when they had pipeline reps at a County Commission meeting. As the VDT reported, Commissioners only asked four questions. They did forward citizens’ questions to the pipeline company, but accepted cut-and-paste PR answers without comment.
The Gilchrist County, Florida County Commission has since demonstrated how it’s done, with an hour of a citizen committee aided by Commissioners grilling Spectra reps, followed by an hour of questions from citizens all around, and attorneys representing landowners and other county commissions cross-examining the Spectra reps, all in public, in front of a packed house and the LAKE video camera.
When will the Lowndes County Commission get around to asking questions?
Commissioner Demarcus Marshall asked if the Chairman would stand up at the FERC Scoping Meeting in Valdosta (today at 6PM at the Holiday Inn on West Hill Avenue).
The Chairman answered that FERC’s documents say it’s better to do everything in writing, so they’d be going online and doing it in writing.
That’s a fine idea! When will they do that, like Valdosta City Council District 5 Tim Carroll already did?
Commissioner Joyce Evans stood there and said nothing.
There’s not anything we can do. Once FERC starts this process, once they issue their certificate, basically their permit, there’s nothing we can do.
The process is to decide whether to issue the permit! And Sabal Trail hasn’t even filed for the actual permitting process yet; this is still the pre-filing process, which includes “a preliminary determination based on non-environmental considerations”. In other words, FERC could decide not to move beyond the pre-filing process. If there’s enough opposition.
If it gets as far as the filing process, individuals or organizations including local governments can file to intervene, which gets FERC’s attention and provides the opportunity to appeal FERC’s decisions in court.
Alleged County Attorney Walter G. Elliott walked by without speaking. Why isn’t he telling the Chairman what he can do? What is the county paying him $300,000 a year to do?
Slaughter stayed there for 20 minutes, but added not much beyond what’s quoted above. Well, he indicated that he was concerned about safety, but after the pipeline was built a federal regulator (PHMSA) would come in and be in charge of safety.
Slaughter did sum the whole thing up as:
You want me to carry your flag.
Maybe the Chairman could carry the flag of the county.
I mentioned to Bill Slaughter the Gilchrist County two-hour interrogation of Spectra, but he didn’t indicate the Lowndes County Commission might do anything similar.
I don’t understand then, what y’all do.
See for yourself. Here’s the video:
There’s nothing we can do about the pipeline –Bill Slaughter
Work Session, Lowndes County Commission (LCC),
Video by Gretchen Quarterman for Lowndes Area Knowledge Exchange (LAKE),
Valdosta, Lowndes County, Georgia, 24 February 2014.