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Gas line unwelcome as neighbor

The meeting crowd is clear about a proposed natural gas line: It's too close to people.

By JAMES THORNER

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 22, 2000


LAND O'LAKES -- During consideration of the proposed Buccaneer Gas Pipeline, federal regulators went out of their way to protect sea grass beds, cypress heads, indigo snakes and wood storks.

But a crowd of several dozen people attending a Thursday night meeting of the Buccaneer Pipeline Citizens Advisory Committee complained the regulators failed to sufficiently protect one crucial species: human beings.

The crowd was reacting to the recent release by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission of a draft environmental impact statement for the pipeline, which would run 674 miles from Mobile, Ala., to Cape Canaveral, via 49 miles of southern Pasco County.

But residents of neighborhoods such as East Lake Padgett Estates in Land O'Lakes, Country Place Village in Odessa and Gulf Trace in Holiday argued the pipeline route endorsed by the federal government was too close for comfort.

"At some point in time people have to be considered," said citizens advisory committee member Bob Allen, who objected most of all to the portion of the proposed pipeline route that runs through Land O'Lakes at State Road 54 and Collier Parkway.

The crowd reacted with applause and shouts of "Right on!" and "Amen, brother!"

Peter and Ellen Power, who live in Country Place Village, a neighborhood of manufactured homes 50 feet from the preferred pipeline corridor, said they and their neighbors are afraid of the risks from gas explosions.

Ellen Power recounted how Buccaneer shifted the route closer to their houses in response to pleas from the Starkey family, who own thousands of acres abutting Country Place.

"Same old thing," Power told the crowd. "Money talks and you-know-what walks."

Bruce Dickey, who lives near Baillie's Bluff in Holiday, criticized the estimated 80 tons of pollution that would be produced by a liquid separation plant near the coast, a plant that pulls water from the natural gas.

"Are not all our lives equal?" Dickey said.

Michael Walsh, a Gulf Trace Homeowners Association member who chaired the meeting Thursday, said the neighbors should have complained sooner.

The committee has held 12 public hearings over the past 10 months, not to mention all the television and newspaper stories about the project, Walsh said.

"This is very late in the game to get into why is it here and why is it there," Walsh told the crowd.

Federal regulators will hold a public hearing at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Land O'Lakes Community Center. Many of the residents at Thursday's meeting vowed to attend the FERC meeting.

Pending approval from FERC, Buccaneer plans to break ground on the Florida portion of the $1.5-billion pipeline in August.

The Pasco County commissioners, who have opposed the project for most of the year, are expected to vote on an agreement with Buccaneer on Oct. 3.

In exchange for the commissioners dropping opposition to the pipeline, Buccaneer is promising $565,000 in cash, extra safety features, such as thicker steel pipes and the donation of land to Pasco to build wildlife corridor.

Thursday's meeting was designed to gather comments for consideration by the commissioners.

-- James Thorner covers growth and development in Pasco County. He can be reached at (813) 226-3458 or thorner@sptimes.com

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