Thank you Commissioner Demarcus Marshall for voting no. Calling it “a good business decision”, the CEO of Waller Heating and Air lauded the others for voting to sell county land for a pittance to a company from Houston, Texas, nevermind their resolution of a year ago. We thought we elected them to represent the people of Lowndes County, and we thought they did back in December 2014 when they unanimously voted “the Lowndes County Board of Commissioners opposes the construction of the Sabal Trail pipeline in any portion of Lowndes County.” But at least one of them (“Wisenbaker) didn’t even remember that the county voted to oppose Sabal Trail. Apparently most of them concur with what the County Engineer said about landowners who have not taken Sabal Trail’s money, “I don’t know who they are.”
Update 2016-01-28: WCTV report, plus Gret chen’s question: “Is less than 50 cents per person in Lowndes County enough to risk drinking water for all?”
Landowners who did take the money mostly did not have an attorney such as the one those Commissioners pay hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. These local businessmen who voted last night apparently forgot what the only elected body that represents all of Lowndes County unanimously said a year ago: “The Lowndes County Commission has concerns with fundamental property rights and does not believe that citizens with small tracts should be forced to lose the use of large portions of their property for the Sabal Trail pipeline.” Considering the testimony the county’s attorney gave last night, the other landowners were probably better off without it. In any case, the Chairman explicitly said local landowners are on their own, before he went into a back room with Sabal Trail to hand over a signed easement agreement in exchange for thirty pieces of silver.
Below are links to each LAKE video from last night’s Regular Session, followed by a video playlist. See also the LAKE videos from yesterday morning’s Work Session and the letter of yesterday from WWALS the the Commissioners.
- 1. Call to Order 2. Invocation 3. Pledge
- 4. Proclamation- Valwood School Football Program
- Youth Leadership Lowndes Introduction
- 5. Minutes for Approval
- 6.a. Hospital Authority of Valdosta and Lowndes County Board
- 6.b. Lowndes County Division of Family and Children Services Board
- 6.c. Conference Center and Tourism Authority Board
- 7.a. Beer, Wine and Liquor License – Mitt’s Liquor #1 – 3498 Madison Hwy
- 7.b. Special Assessment Rate for 2016
7.c. Natural Gas Underground Pipeline Easement and Agreement
Video. Automobile Dealership Clay Griner’s only concern was whether they’d have to pay the money back if the pipeline didn’t get permits. The alleged county attorney read from the contract which none of us have seen, saying paragraph 16 has a reverter clause which says “if you want to look at it”, that the land would revert and there would be no reimbursement.
Commissioner Demarcus Marshall wanted to know whether there was some conflict with the resolution against Sabal Trail they adopted last year, and whether there was some need to deal with this now.
The CEO of Waller Heating and Air said over 90% of landowners in the county had signed with Sabal Trail already. County Engineer Mike Fletcher said 59 of 65 had, and this would make 60.
Marshall tried again, asking if there was some time limit on approving the easement. The air conditioning executive said “I’m not sure I quite understand your question.” He said he thought “primarily” this easement was “right along the same lines that would be done with any other utility easement in the county” such roads. “Again I believe the document has been drawn up in a fashion that protects the county that in the event that FERC does not approve the pipeline it rescinds the agreement and you’re back to where you started.” By “the county” apparently he meant the county government as a business, because what he said sure doesn’t protect the citizens or taxpayers or water drinkers of the county from the invading pipeline from Houston, Texas. Apparently he also doesn’t understand, even though he wrote it in a letter to FERC and then in a resolution unanimously approved by all the Commissioners, that when he’s sitting in that chair he’s supposed to be acting on behalf of all the citizens of the county, not just as Chairman of a business called Lowndes County.
Commissioner Marshall tried again, asking “would there be any repercussions possibly” for not signing the easement agreement. This time the alleged county attorney said,
Bear in mind Sabal Trail has the right of eminent domain, so if agreement is not reached by the county and Sabal Trail, then the county and Sabal Trail, then they would have the option of exercising that right and instituting a legal proceeding to acquire it using their power of eminent domain.
The household appliance CEO pushed harder to sell county land to a company from Houston, Texas, saying
If time is going to change your time on the position of allowing Sabal Trail to come across Lowndes County property, then yes, take it. If it’s not going to make a difference in your decision that if a pipeline gets approved, then it’s coming through Lowndes County and you’re going to allow them to come across Lowndes County property, then there’s no problem in approving it tonight.
Building contractor Scott Orenstein said,
I think that we can personally or collectively have our own opinions, disagree about this whole pipeline issue, but I think that what we have here is what’s in the best interest, best business practice for the county. So I think we have to keep this in mind, that this is smart business, regardless of how we feel personally.
Commissioner Marshal tried again:
And I agree totally, my only drawback is that we voted a resolution to oppose it, and that’s looking at me every second we talk about Sabal Trail, because we voted on behalf of the citizens last year.
Real estate broker Mark Wisenbaker wondered,
Did we actually oppose it, or did we have some stipulations we wanted to follow, like depth, removing of footprint?
The air conditioning exeutive at least remembered:
It was a combination of all of the above.
But he wouldn’t leave it at that, continuing a hard sell for Spectra Energy of Houston, Texas:
But again, this is not an issue at this point of whether we oppose it or whether we approve. The issue is that in the event that FERC approves the pipeline, and then it’s out of our hands, this is an agreement between Sabal Trail and Lowndes County to allow them to come on the property for the purpose of the easement to put the pipeline in, again making us number 60 out of 65 property owners that would have approved the easement.
Commissioner Marshall asked if there was any special permitting needed for the landfill. County Engineer Mike Fletcher said the pipeline didn’t go through the main landfill, merely through additional land used as “an inert landfill”. He also revealed they had “revised the agreement originally sent to us”. When was it sent and when was it revised? Someone (I think Wisenbaker) asked if there were any other permits required. The Engineer said no because “they’re not going to be disturbing any of our monitoring wells, so everything is fine.”
Wisenbaker wanted to know if Sabal Trail would parallel “the Southern pipeline”, apparently referring to the existing Southern Natural Gas pipeline. The Engineer said yes.
Marshall wanted to know where those still opposing the pipeline line “on that map”, which presumbaly those sitting behind their desks could see, but we the people could not. Answer from the County Engineer:
No sir, I don’t know who they are.
The AC CEO asked for a motion. Wisenbaker moved:
Mr. Chairman, giving the fact that by approving this we’d be number 60 out of 65, an overwhelming percentage in favor, I motion that we approve and authorize you to sign the agreement for $54,300 consideration to the county.
There was a barely audible second, I think from automobile dealer Clay Griner. Then the AC exec. asked for hands raised. For raised their hands for, and only Commissioner Demarcus Marshall raised his hand high for no.
7.c. just a bit more on the business of it all
Video. The air conditioning executive summarized:
I certainly appreciate the discussions that have been had through this process. And again this was a good business decision for Lowndes County, as it would be for any other property owner. It is a decision that they independently, each of them, will have to make as they participate through this process.
Why do we have an elected county government, then?
8. Reports – County Manager (no report)
Video. “No additional report.”
9. CWTBH – John S. Quarterman (regarding the pipeline vote)
I’m curious how a pipeline that provides nothing to Lowndes County is like any other utility. I’m also curious what this process was that was referred to. I’ve kind of searched this newspaper article, and I see nothing in here about in here about the landfill, or about the EPD permit that in the Chairman’s letter of last April, it said item number 11 was required. Nothing was said about any of this at yesterday morning’s Work Session. And this was scheduled with less than a day’s notice. So I wonder, where is this process? The public has not seen any process.
And, I’m not big on quoting the Bible, but 60 out of 65. I’m going to quote Exodus 23:2:
Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil.
Just becaouse a bunch of other landowners took the money doesn’t mean the county had to. And I can tell you Sabal Trail will not treat this as just another landowner. They will be trumpeting Lowndes County took the money, signed the easement. That resolution you all agreed to unanimously a year ago, I guess you didn’t mean it. Because you’re now actively working against it. You had a chance to represent the citizens of Lowndes County, and you took the money instead.
They immediately moved to adjourn and laughed.
Commissioner Clay Griner, who earlier said on the telephone he didn’t want to argue about it, stopped in the door on the way out to argue with me. I pointed out, as I did yesterday in a letter as president of WWALS Watershed Coalition, that the Commissioners could have helped stop pipeline permits by asking state and federal elected officials to do so. He answered “I don’t think so” and went out the door.
Afterwards I congratulated Spectra Energy’s Brian Fahrenholdt for turning another one, noting at least he’s doing the job he’s paid for, unlike some others in the room. For example, the county attorney whose answers led many to believe eminent domain could be invoked right now, when he knows full well FERC hasn’t issued a permit, so there is no federal eminent domain. (One could argue about Georgia eminent domain, because of several cases where Sabal Trail has sued local landowners and judges have granted survey access. But none of those cases apply to any other landowners, and even Sabal Trail has repeatedly said they’re only about surveying, not about right of way easements. So Sabal Trail does not have state eminent domain over that county land, either.)
The attorney fell back on the precise wording of his statement, which he alleged only said there was a risk of eminent domain. Listen for yourself to what he actually said:
Bear in mind Sabal Trail has the right of eminent domain…
Maybe the county attorney, whom I have heard is a church elder, should read the rest of Exodus 23:2:
nor shall you testify in a dispute so as to turn aside after a multitude in order to pervert justice.
Here’s a video playlist:
Videos: Sold out to Sabal Trail
Regular Session, Lowndes County Commission (LCC),
Video by Gretchen Quarterman for Lowndes Area Knowledge Exchange (LAKE),
Valdosta, Lowndes County, Georgia, 26 January 2016.