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Fueling the resistance
Residents balk at the idea of building a pipeline to carry jet fuel through their neighborhoods, regardless of any benefit to airlines.
By JANET ZINK, Times Staff Writer
Published December 16, 2007
TAMPA - The e-mails, phone calls and letters have hit City Hall with the force of a fully revved aircraft engine.
"Kill this pipeline. One is enough," a West Tampa resident said in a call to the City Council.
"We consider this pipeline dangerous, unnecessary and unwanted," states a petition signed by more than 100 people.
Neighborhood groups objected to the proposed jet fuel pipeline as soon as they learned of it in September. Then an ammonia gas pipe leak in south Hillsborough County in November forced evacuations and stoked concerns about pipeline safety.
"When that happened, it made it even worse," said West Tampa homeowner Rosalie Nocilla. "People just don't want it, and I don't see why we have to accept it."
And yet city officials continue their conversations with airline officials and pipeline builder Kinder-Morgan, who say the 9-mile, $20-million line will lower fuel prices by providing airlines an alternative to the only other comparable pipe in the city.
Mayor Pam Iorio met Wednesday with Rhea Law, an attorney hired by the airlines, and Harry Costello, a public relations consultant working on behalf of the pipeline backers. The company had proposed building the line from the Port of Tampa to Tampa International Airport through Ybor City, East Tampa and West Tampa.
Community outcry, though, has Kinder-Morgan back at the drawing board to develop an alternate route that won't run past so many homes.
"We cannot avoid them all, but we can try to reduce the amount of residents we go by," said Jacque Williams, director of major projects for Kinder-Morgan.
City Council member Mary Mulhern said regardless of the route, she's not convinced the pipeline is a good idea.
"I'm still waiting to hear what the public benefit is," she said.
Costello said the airlines asked Kinder-Morgan to build the pipeline to offer additional sources of jet fuel.
"If you and I could only go to the Shell or the Chevron station, we'd say, 'Well, I wish there was a Citgo,'" he said. "That's what this offers to the airlines. More competition, which helps reduce their costs."
'No demand for additional fuel'
For decades, the airlines have relied on a transmission pipe operated by Tampa Pipeline Corp., that runs to the airport from Port Tampa near MacDill Airforce Base.
Tampa Pipeline hired public affairs consultant Bob Buckhorn last month to fight the Kinder-Morgan line. Buckhorn said Tampa Pipeline has the capacity to serve the airlines.
"There is no demand for additional fuel," Buckhorn said. "All it is is a play by some of the airlines so they can drive down some of their fuel costs, which you and I know they're not going to pass on to the flying public. So it's all about money."
Buckhorn said the competition could force Tampa Pipeline out of business, which would mean fuel stored near Port Tampa would end up moving by truck through city streets.
Pipelines are generally considered a safer way to transport fuel than by truck.
But Kinder-Morgan has had its share of safety and environmental issues.
Its pipelines have ruptured in Virginia and Arizona, and the company last month was convicted of multiple felonies and forced to pay $15-million after a 2004 pipeline explosion in California killed five workers. The company also agreed in May to pay $5.3-million to resolve federal and state environmental violations in California.
Last year, Kinder-Morgan reached an agreement with federal regulators that required the company to make up to $90-million in safety improvements in six Western states.
The company would have to pay the city a small annual fee to use the city right of way for the new transmission line. That agreement will require the approval of the City Council.
Tampa in negotiations
Tampa Pipeline's 24-year-old agreement obligates the company to pay the city $5,500 a year.
Kinder-Morgan has suggested paying $14,000 a year.
"What they proposed is not what we would automatically accept," said Sharon Fox, the city's tax revenue coordinator. "This is a negotiation."
Ybor City resident Fran Costantino said she knows the city needs money anywhere it can get it. But the risks aren't worth the return, she said.
"I don't want it anywhere near us," she said. "We're a national historic landmark district."
The NAACP is also weighing in, saying that the plan will disproportionately affect black and Hispanic neighborhoods.
"We're fighting it tooth and nail," said Hillsborough County NAACP president Curtis Stokes. "It goes against our environmental justice policy."
Gloria Livingston, who lives nowhere near the pipeline's proposed route, put a call into council members expressing her opposition to the plan, which she says benefits no one but big businesses.
She said it's no good for any neighborhood, but she worries in particular about black neighborhoods.
"That does not improve the area that it would be going through," she said.
Some waiting for details
Others are less adamant.
Tony LaColla, president of the Historic Ybor Neighborhood Civic Association, said his group is waiting to see an alternate route before taking a position.
Wofford Johnson, president of Tampa Homeowners, an Association of Neighborhoods, said he has lived near the existing jet fuel line for more than 10 years without any problems.
Nonetheless, his organization sent a letter to Iorio, citing the ammonia pipe leak and outlining concerns about "installing yet another pipeline carrying hazardous materials through our neighborhoods."