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    Gulf gas pipeline wins initial federal approval

    By Times staff writer

    © St. Petersburg Times, published February 22, 2001

    TALLAHASSEE -- The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Wednesday gave approval for a 753-mile-long natural gas pipeline in the Gulf of Mexico that would start in Mobile, Ala., cut across the mouth of Tampa Bay and make landfall at Port Manatee in Manatee County.

    The $1.6-billion Gulfstream Natural Gas Pipeline is controversial, because some state and federal environmental agencies say construction will hurt important marine habitat on the gulf bottom.

    The pipeline will be built by a partnership of two companies based in Oklahoma and North Carolina. It still needs approval from several state and federal agencies before construction can begin.

    The pipeline will supply natural gas to central and eastern Florida. After it makes landfall in Manatee County, it will traverse 10 counties, crossing rivers and swamps and skirting the shores of Lake Okeechobee, terminating near Palm Beach.

    When it approved the pipeline Wednesday, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued a news release saying the project will cause "limited adverse environmental impacts."

    But other federal agencies have a different view. The Department of Commerce has complained that "this pipeline has the potential to significantly degrade sensitive marine habitats, including those important to commercial and recreational fisheries."

    State and federal fishing regulators also expressed concerns that the pipeline would harm marine resources, including prime areas for grouper.

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