Construction may start as soon as Wednesday on the $3.2-billion Sabal Trail natural gas pipeline now that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have finalized permits. The project will carry natural gas 55 miles through Alabama, 196 miles through Georgia, and 214 miles into Florida.
Companies partnering on the pipeline project are Houston-based Spectra Energy, Duke Energy and FP & L parent company NextEra Energy. As of last Friday, they are approved to begin discharging dredged and fill material into bodies of water and wetlands during construction.
The Sabal Trail partners are required to buy mitigation credits from several state and federal wetland mitigation banks in areas that been preserved or restored to offset anticipated environmental impacts from the pipeline build. The EPA estimated last year about 1,200 acres would be impacted or destroyed during the project's construction, but revised its projection to less than 900 acres. Later, the EPA dropped its concerns that the project could cause sinkholes or damage the aquifer.
The pipeline's route through north central Florida will go through dozens of springsheds (underground bodies of water that feed springs) and limestone geology characterized by underground caverns that makes the area prone to sinkholes. The Army Corps of Engineers did not grant a request from the Madison County Commission in north Florida to further review potential environmental impacts of Sabal Trail's main line, including a site inspection to determine the actual proximity of active sinkholes and other features of the aquifer and cave systems to the proposed pipeline route according to records on the WWALS Watershed Coalition Web site. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers declined the commission's request, saying information already gathered about the project from the various applicants and GoogleEarth are sufficient for them to make an accurate evaluation.
Opponents to the pipeline include Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson of the Sierra Club and Pamela Smith, president of Our Santa Fe River citing concerns that impacts to wetlands, while considered temporary, could take up to 50 years to revegetate. Smith said, "There is no win for the citizens of Florida, only profits for the energy companies that will move compressed gas through our delicate and already overtaxed water ecosystem."
Spectra Energy spokeswoman Andrea Grover gave a target date of late August to start construction. The pipeline's route will be divided into five segments and construction on each will start simultaneously. Spectra Energy is now working on pre-construction activities such as surveys, and trapping and relocating the government protected gopher tortoise.