Oil pipeline builder agrees to halt eminent domain lawsuits
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) - A company seeking to build a controversial oil pipeline over an aquifer that supplies drinking water to 1 million people on Tuesday verbally agreed to stop bringing lawsuits against Tennessee property owners who refused to access it to sell their land for building purposes.
Brad Leone, spokesman for Plains All American Pipeline, said the company would enter into an agreement in writing with the Memphis City Council to overturn lawsuits against owners fighting the Byhalia Connection pipeline. Leone spoke at a council committee meeting where members discussed a proposed city law that made the pipeline's approval and construction difficult.
Plains is part of a joint venture with Valero Energy to build the Byhalia Connection, a 78-kilometer underground pipeline connecting the East-West Diamond Pipeline through the Valero Refinery in Memphis with the North-South Capline Pipeline nearby by Byhalia connects. Mississippi. The Capline, which has transported crude oil north to the Midwest from a port in Louisiana on the Gulf of Mexico, is reversed to deliver oil south via Mississippi to refineries and export terminals on the Gulf Coast.
Plains and Valero say the project will bring the jobs and tax revenue it needs to the Memphis area. Byhalia Connection has received permission from Tennessee and the US Army Corps of Engineers to build the pipeline.
The proposed route would take the pipeline across the Memphis Sand Aquifer, which supplies 1 million people in the Memphis area with slightly fresh drinking water. It is part of a large groundwater system that lies under eight states that provides water for farms, factories, and homes.
Environmentalists, lawyers, activists and politicians opposed to the pipeline fear that an oil spill could cause pollutants to enter the aquifer and endanger Memphis' drinking water. In a letter to the Army Corps, the Southern Environmental Law Center said the clay layer over the aquifer "has several known and suspected breaks, holes and leaks."
Activists are also upset that the pipeline would run through poor, mostly black neighborhoods in southern Memphis, which have been dealing with environmental issues such as air and soil pollution for decades. Community members have organized weekend rallies that include pipeline opponents like former Vice President Al Gore.
Most of the property owners on the pipeline signed contracts giving Byhalia access to their land. Property owners who have not agreed to receive payment in return for easements on their land have been sued. The pipeline company's attorneys are trying to leverage significant domain rights to claim ownership.
A hearing was scheduled for May 14th to hear arguments about whether Byhalia had a legal right to take over the land.
Leone said the cases are being dismissed and the pipeline company plans to look into alternatives to the current route.
"Much of this pause is not to advance the major domain lawsuits mentioned," Leone told the committee. "This is absolutely something that we will agree to."
Council members then delayed voting on a proposal for a regulation to set up a committee to approve or oppose the construction of underground pipelines carrying oil or other potentially hazardous liquids near wells that pump millions of gallons of water from the aquifer every day.
Leone didn't say the company would fail to seek easements from other property owners while the ordinance is delayed.
"We want our drinking water and communities to be protected, and we don't want the pipeline company to continue abusing significant domains to take land," said Justin Pearson, co-founder of the Memphis Community Against the Pipeline.
Pipeline opponents support the regulation. But city council attorney Allan Wade said he had concerns about its legality.
Byhalia Connection said the ordinance would harm local business and it would likely sue if the law is passed. A vote is not expected until at least July.
Byhalia has announced that the pipeline will be built a safe distance from the aquifer, which is much deeper than the proposed pipeline route. The company said the route was chosen after a review of population density, environmental features and historical cultural sites. Byhalia has tried to build goodwill in Memphis by donating $ 1 million to local causes.
Byhalia has also said that the pipeline route wasn't determined by factors such as race or class. The company has dismissed allegations of environmental racism after a land agent from Byhalia said during a community meeting that the developers "basically grabbed a point of least resistance" in choosing the pipeline route.
Pipeline opponents are fighting the project on several fronts. A federal lawsuit challenges the Army Corps of Engineers' approval of the pipeline under a statewide permit and the Shelby County Commission has refused to sell two parcels of land on the planned route to the pipeline builder.
US Representative Steve Cohen, a Memphis Democrat, and about two dozen other members of Congress sent a letter asking President Joe Biden's administration to reconsider the Army Corps' approval.
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