Pipeline talk:Property owners seek answers on plan|[03/23/07]

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 23, 2007

Property owners whose land may be crossed by the latest natural gas pipeline proposed to cross through Warren County took a detailed look at maps and inquired about the project with a legion of officials associated with the project Thursday night.

About 30 landowners gathered at Vicksburg Convention Center for an &#8220open house” required by federal regulators before the project by Midcontinent Express Pipeline LLC can begin.

A segment of the 494-mile line would cross the river at Vicksburg and pass through Warren County south of Interstate 20.

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Proposed by Kinder Morgan Energy Partners LP and Energy Transfer Partners LP, the firms are joining forces on the Midcontinent Express Pipeline System, one that project managers said will bring up to 1.4 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day from reserves in southern Oklahoma and northern Arkansas and provide it primarily to markets on the East Coast.

&#8220They’re aching for it there,” said Kevin Dahncke, a director with Kinder Morgan and project manager with the pipeline effort. &#8220The gas is stranded (in the reserves) and the East Coast is in high demand.”

Initially, the line will pass through with no local taps. Eventually, Dahncke added, local distributors will have opportunities to tie into the line to provide natural gas service to cities along the route.

Maps show the line beginning in southeast Oklahoma as a 30-inch line as it connects with existing lines there, running through northeast Texas and north Louisiana as a 42-inch line, then as a 36-inch line from Delhi through central Mississippi and ending in Butler, Ala., southeast of Meridian.

In Warren County, the planned route is virtually the same as the route of the proposed East Texas to Mississippi Expansion Project, by Gulf South Pipeline, LP.

That route takes the line into Warren County at a point just south of Rainbow Casino, continuing across U.S. 61 South just north of Grange Hall Road, crossing Mississippi 27 and the county line with Hinds near the southern end of Bovina Cut-Off Road.

Both follow rights-of-way owned by Entergy.

Those who own land along its route through Warren County who attended the session, first in a series of regulatory steps an energy project must complete to be built, found themselves comparing Midcontinent’s treatment of landowners with that of Gulf South.

&#8220I asked whether I’d be compensated, the value of the land, whether I could till on it,” said Arthur Prentiss, whose family owns multiple tracts around Mississippi 27.

Prentiss said he was contacted by company officials through the mail informing him of the project, something he said officials with Gulf South failed to do.

&#8220They (Midcontinent) said they’d refertilize the land and leave it better than it was. I was satisfied,” Prentiss said.

Others, like his wife, Betty, were more cautious.

&#8220I worry about noise pollution and escape routes in case something happens,” Prentiss said.

Another, Greg Broadbent, was still skeptical about company’s plans to work amicably with landowners in the wake of seven eminent domain suits Gulf South filed against landowners, including Broadbent, to persuade them to sell land or easements for the pipeline’s construction.

&#8220They’re destroying the forest land as they bore through all this rugged terrain,” said Broadbent, owner of property along Fisher Ferry Road.

Some, like Barbara Foster, found their property within a one-quarter mile &#8220buffer zone” drawn on route maps, effectively a tentative route if initial rights of way cannot be purchased.

Jim Fugate, a rights-of-way official with Brandon-based Pinebelt Energy Resources, a firm contracted by the joint venture, said every effort will be made to work with landowners on the ground

&#8220We will be thorough in that regard,” Fugate said.

The next step in the process for the Midcontinent Express Pipeline will be a notice of intent for an environmental review, said Erik Ditts of Atlanta-based Entrix Environmental Consultants, a firm acting as environmental consultants to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

When completed, the review will take into account a long list of potential issues, including erosion, water resources, wildlife and overlapping rights-of-way with other public utilities.

Another public comment session is held when the environmental impact statement is drafted, to take place after the joint venture firm formally applies to FERC Aug. 27 to construct the pipeline.

Dahncke said no plans exist at this time to ask local governments for a fee-in-lieu of ad valorem taxes, such as the case with both Spectra Energy Corp. and Gulf South in Warren County.

Supervisors supported Spectra in its request last year, agreeing in principle to the fee-in-lieu, one that would pay $125,000 to the county and school district each of the initial 10 years and $375,000 in subsequent years.

Since litigation began, county board members have not done the same on Gulf South’s intentions for the same tax substitution.

District 5 Supervisor Richard George attended the session, as did former supervisor Bill Lauderdale, a candidate for his old seat in District 4. Both districts are crossed by Gulf South and Midcontinent projects.

George, who will stand for re-election later this year, said he believes Midcontinent has been more tactful in its dealings with landowners in his district.

Incumbent District 4 Supervisor Carl Flanders was not recorded as having attended.