Golf Trail Gets More Protection Than Mobile's Drinking Water Supply For 250,000

I am no writer, but this is a story that needs to be told. It is a story of how a company has obtained the right to place a toxic crude oil pipeline through the only approved source of drinking water for thousands of citizens in both Mobile and Baldwin counties.  
Our story begins in Nov. 2012, when I, along with several other activists, learned of a plan for Plains SouthCap to build a heated pipeline under the Mobile River to transport Canadian tar sands. The Canadian National railway would bring into the City of Mobile, offload into the pipeline, and pump it under the Mobile River to a tank Farm on the east side of the river. We learned about this project during the Fall Retreat for the Alabama Sierra Club at Camp Beckwith in Fairhope, AL, when David Underhill, who heads the Mobile Bay Sierra Club environmental planning committee, noticed an article in the Mobile Press Register by Ben Raines.
In this article, Mobile Baykeeper Casi Callaway talked about the project and how she had seen the plans for the pipeline back in 2011, and that the Baykeepers approved of them. At the time we all wondered why the Baykeepers had kept this from other environmental groups who might have objected to the plans, but we had bigger fish to fry. 
Kimberly McCuiston, Mr. Underhill, and I started digging.
That is when we discovered that there were also plans by Plains to build a 41 mile long pipeline that would originate at Ten Mile Terminal in Mobile, AL, and run the 41 miles to the Chevron Refinery in Pascagoula, MS. We believed this pipeline would transport tar sands as well.
We began researching, and found that the Public Service Commission had approved the plans in 2011 and granted the company the power of eminent domain.  In addition, the Army Corp. of Engineers had granted Plains SouthCap (which at the time was an LLC operating under the parent company Plains All American out of Houston, TX) a nationwide permit.
The problem with a nationwide permit is that it allows the pipeline company to build their pipeline without doing the proper environmental studies. This was all done without the benefit of public hearings in the Mobile area, but rather a small notice was run in the paper, and the hearing was held at the PSC office in Montgomery. No one knew about the hearing, no one was able to object, and the company was given the right to build the pipeline.
We ran into a problem once we started trying to track down the actual pipeline route because Plains had not publically released the map of the route. Once again, I started digging into the documents and with the use of Google Earth estimated the start and end points of the pipeline mapped the route, which took it directly through Big Creek Lake — the Municipal drinking water supply for an estimated 250,000 people. Shortly after I mapped the route, Plains released the actual route and my projections were on the money.
What I and others didn't realize at the time was that much of this pipeline was already constructed, and MAWSS land was pretty much all they lacked to complete. We also learned that Plains at the time actually did not have the legal right as an LLC under Alabama law to assert eminent domain, regardless of what the PSC had stated previously to them. By this time however, it was too late for many people as they had been bullied and threatened by the company into either selling or having their property condemned and taken by Plains.
We only learned of the rule governing eminent domain and LLC's after the Mobile Area Water & Sewer System filed a suit to block Plains from condemning their land in the watershed. The judge first ruled in favor of Plains, and then later reversed his decision citing that in fact Plains did not, as an LLC, have the power to use eminent domain under Alabama Law.  This time I, along with several others, had already launched a campaign to educate the public. The Mobile Bay Sierra Club held public forums as well as protests at the lake and in front of Mobile's Government Plaza.  We marched through downtown Mobile in the pouring rain in an effort to raise awareness. 
The controversy raged through the mayoral election. Sandy Stimpson, who was running against incumbent mayor Sam Jones, circulated a petition stating his opposition to the pipeline, citing threats to Mobile's drinking water. Stimpson was elected Mayor of Mobile in November 2013, but to date, he has yet to issue any stateement objecting to the pipeline.
Shortly after the election, Attorney Jarrod White filed papers needed for Plains to become a Corporation. In Dec. 2013, Plains filed an appeal of the earlier judge’s decision asserting that they were now a Corporation, and as such had the right under Alabama law to assert the Power of Eminent Domain originally granted them by the PSC in 2011.
The judge agreed and the legal wrangling commenced.
In January of this year, the judge ruled in favor of Plains stating that they could indeed condemn the 4000 feet of land inside the Big Creek Lake watershed and place the crude oil pipeline 90 ft. below the surface of the lake.  Remember: this is the only approved drinking water source for 250,000 people.
The 90-foot depth of the pipelines leaves little hope of effective monitoring: if/whn it ruptures, the water supply will be completely contaminated before the oil reaches the surface and before anyone realizes there's a problem.  Can you say "West Virginia?"
After the Judges condemnation ruling, MAWSS  began holding meetings in an attempt to decide whether to appeal the judgment to the Alabama Supreme Court. During this time, the Mobile Baykeepers filed a separate lawsuit against the Corp of Engineers over their issuance of the nationwide permit to Plains.
Plains Attorneys asserted that the Baykeepers did not have standing to bring the suit, and that the court where it was filed did not have jurisdiction to hear the case. Then they filed to adjoin themselves to the suit as codefendants, stating they had a $130 million dollar investment in this pipeline project, and as such, had an interest in the suit. The judge agreed:
Plains’ interest, U.S. District Court Judge William Steele determined, is the $130 million it has invested in a near-completed 45-mile oil pipeline between north Mobile and Pascagoula. In intervening, the company argues it is entitled to do so as a right because “the principal object of the Complaint is to preclude Plains from completing construction of and thereafter operating its nearly completed Pipeline.”
The final blow to the water supply was dealt last week (February 27, 2014), when MAWSS decided against an appeal and settled with Plains for $2.7 million dollars.  The water authority issued a statement:

“It was a difficult decision but our Board believes this settlement is in the best interest of our customers as it provides resources that can be used on capital projects to protect the watershed.”

MAWSS will shift its focus to changing the federal law that gave Plains its authority, according to Odom.

“MAWSS wants to thank the citizens for their support and asks their help in working with elected officials in Washington to amend the Federal Pipeline Safety Act to protect critical resources like Big Creek Lake which supplies drinking water to the region,” he said.

Plains Southcorp sure got a bargain. If/when the pipeline ruptures and contaminates the water supply, Plains will have paid a measley $12/person for the privilege.

Another part of the settlement stipulates that Plains cannot place tar sand through the pipeline, but there's really no way to tell for sure. The judge has ruled the pipeline cannot be heated or insulated. In order to push Bitumen, which is the actual name of tar sands, through a pipeline it must be diluted with chemicals which creates what is known as "Dilbit" and then it can be pumped through the pipeline. Remember this pipeline will be buried 90 feet underground: there's no way to actually be sure they aren't pushing "Dilbit" through the pipeline until the thing ruptures.

Dilbit can't be cleaned up like conventional crude oil; it is heavier and sinks more readily to the bottom, making it almost impossible to get out of the water once it gets in.

Consider the main reason MAWSS cited for not appealing the condemnation:

“Despite our hard fought opposition, the Court ruled in favor of Plains Southcap and allowed the condemnation of our land. Our attorneys advise that an appeal to the State Supreme Court of this ruling would be expensive and have little chance of success,” said Odom. 

So I leave you with these final thoughts to ponder.

What will the cost be if/when the pipeline goes, and 250,000 people and countless businesses don't have an alternate approved source of safe, clean, drinking water? 

Here's the kicker: Plains did have an alternate route, which would have spared the risk to the drinking water supply.... Unfortunately, it went through the "Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail" in Mobile. They chose not to use this route because they feared community push back! The Pipeline company chose to risk the drinking water of thousands to keep from tearing up a golf course, and interrupting peoples golf games.  Pretty pathetic, isn't it? 

We need serious reforms in Montgomery!  In November, I hope you vote the bums on the PSC out, as they appear to only care about money and not about your safety. Remember this could happen in any community in Alabama, this time it's Mobile next time it could be your drinking water supply being sold to the pipeline company!
Please stay tuned for the next post about Plains Pipeline Company.  Next time, I'll discuss their assault on Mobile's Historic Africatown Community and the Mobile County Training School.
Learn more on the Tar Sands Oil Mobile FB page.
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