Town keeps watch on proposed gas pipeline
By William Kelly

Palm Beach Daily News
6 March 2003

Thursday, March 6, 2003 - The town says it is keeping close watch on a Texas firm's proposal to build a high-pressure natural gas pipeline that would run close to the town's northern limit.

If Houston-based El Paso Corp. applies for permission to build the pipeline, the town will hire an engineering consultant to review the plans, Assistant Town Manager Tom Bradford said recently.

If the possibility of a rupture or explosion is deemed to pose a risk to town residents or properties, the Town Council might adopt a resolution or take other steps to oppose the project, he said.

"(El Paso representatives) have told us that it is not a concern based on the pressure and size of the pipe, but we want to verify that," Bradford said.

"We need to be prepared," Town Manager Peter Elwell said in January at a Palm Beach Civic Association forum. "We need to satisfy ourselves that there is no threat to the town."

The Town Council has not gone on record as opposed to the project. But Mayor Lesly Smith said this week she is "adamantly opposed" to the proposed route because it is too close to North End residents.

Repeated attempts to interview El Paso officials were unsuccessful.

El Paso proposes to spend $250 million to build a 164-mile pipeline, 26 inches in diameter, from Grand Bahama Island to a Florida Power and Light plant near Indiantown, company officials have said. The company hopes to begin building the line next year and open it in 2005. The line would be buried about 3 feet underground, and would transport a billion cubic feet of gas every day to the power plant.

Tankers would haul natural gas in a liquid form from faraway ports to a facility in the Bahamas that would convert the liquid back to vapor before it is transported through the pipe to Florida, a company spokesman said.

The pipeline, named Seafarer, would come ashore on Singer Island, cross Palm Beach Inlet and Peanut Island, go through through Mangonia Park and up to the Beeline Highway into Martin County. Along the way, it would carve a 100-foot swath through Palm Beach County nature preserves and skirt neighborhoods along the Beeline Highway.

El Paso has said the pipeline is safe and will provide clean fuel for a rapidly growing regional population and contribute about $1.1 million in annual property taxes for Palm Beach County and $350,000 for Martin County. It also would create about 170 jobs during the construction, the company has said.

El Paso has said it hopes to apply in the next few months for permission to build the pipeline from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the Bahamian government.

El Paso has said it is attempting to negotiate a contract with FPL by April so the pipeline could provide fuel for a planned expansion of the utility's Indiantown plant. If an agreement isn't reached, plans for the pipeline could change.

FPL spokesman Rod Macon had no comment.

Bradford said it appears, based on information supplied to him by El Paso employees, that in the event of an explosion, the town would be far away from the blast zone, although he said a few North End homes might hear noise and feel vibrations if the pipe were to explode at its closest point to Palm Beach.

But he said that calculation is not definitive.

"The town will hire its own consultant," he said. "When it does, other details will be available for the consultant to examine."

Bradford said he was unaware of any complaints from Palm Beach residents about the pipeline.

Dr. Sanford Kuvin, whose home at 149 East Inlet Drive looks out over the inlet toward Singer Island, said he was unaware of the plan. But he called the idea of a high-pressure gas line through the busy port and residential area "horrendous."

"The implications are so absurd as to demand immediate and complete opposition," Kuvin said.

There is plenty of opposition elsewhere.

The Lake Worth and Palm Beach Gardens city councils have adopted resolutions opposing the pipeline, citing safety and environmental concerns.

The Palm Beach and Martin County commissioners in a joint resolution recently expressed "grave concerns" about routing the pipeline through or near their communities.

"We're concerned about safety, based on recent things that have happened here locally," said commission Chairwoman Karen Marcus, who represents the Town of Palm Beach north of Royal Palm Way.

On Jan. 20, natural gas leaked from a corroded 3-inch underground pipe owned by Florida Public Utilities, forcing the evacuation of some residents in a West Palm Beach neighborhood.

On Jan. 10, a 10-inch gas pipe opened 5 feet beneath a Lake Worth street, releasing a 30-foot-high plume of noxious fumes and resulting in the evacuation of hundreds of Lake Worth High School students. Fourteen staff members and students were treated at an area hospital after being sickened by the smell. That pipe also was owned by Florida Public Utilities, which has said it isn't certain what caused the rupture.

North county resident Catherine Dwore is one of a group of residents who have asked state legislators to investigate the safety of miles of aging pipes in the ground.

Dwore said she opposes the Seafarer route for safety and environmental reasons, and she questioned the wisdom of moving a billion cubic feet of gas daily past neighborhoods, through the Port of Palm Beach and onto Peanut Island, the site of intensive recreational use.

"You'll never convince me that it is safe for people to camp on top of that pipeline," she said.

El Paso has said it recently launched a 10-year plan to inspect the insides of all the pipelines it operates in the United States and that the company has an extensive safety program that includes regular inspections of its lines by air and on the ground.

Copyright Palm Beach Daily News
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