Madison County commissioners were asked Sept. 27 to appoint a government liaison to help keep citizens informed about pipeline activities in the county and to develop a plan of action in the event of a pipeline catastrophe.
Jill McElheney, who heads a Madison County pipeline watchdog group that formed in 2005 — Citizens Organized for Pipeline Safety (COPS) — stood before commissioners Monday with a map of the three pipelines in the county. She spoke of past leaks and of toxic emissions and said the local government needs to look out for county citizens on pipeline matters. She noted the past problems of Colonial Pipeline, pointing out the entire line was declared unsafe in 1996. She also spoke of the Gulf oil spill disaster this year as a wake up call for communities.
“We’re pushing for the community right to know what the pipelines have done to insure that their past failures have been properly repaired,” said McElheney. “What are the current conditions of the pipelines and have they met inspection and safety standards? When was the last government pipeline inspection in Madison County? How often are they inspected?”
Between 1966 and 1979, Colonial Pipeline reported seven leaks in Madison County near its booster station just off Hwy 29 south of Danielsville. But the company never informed surrounding residents of the area of the potential contaminants in their groundwater, not until benzene, a cancer-causing contaminant was discovered in well water in 1994. Shortly after, the company purchased numerous houses from landowners who suffered contaminated well water. But residents wondered how long they had been drinking benzene-laced water.
About 10 years after the contamination was discovered, Colonial Pipeline paid approximately $1 million for a water line to be run from Madico Park at Hwy. 98 and Hwy. 172 to the affected area off Hwy. 29. Residents of the area temporarily received free water, but were later charged for the water.
McElheney also noted that Plantation Pipeline had a major spill in 2003 at its booster station on Hwy. 106, but the spill was not widely known until well after it happened. She pointed out that government environmental records regarding industry emissions have shown that Williams Transco emits 185 tons of formaldehyde into the air each year.
“You see from the summer of 2010, light was shed on darkness on a national scale,” said McElheney. “… You elected leaders have been trusted to protect the health, safety and welfare and your oath of office, we believe you can put a better system in motion by appointing a pipeline safety liaison who will be the point person on all things pipeline in the county. The liaison would provide and avenue of communication to those whose lives, livelihood and property are influenced by these pipeline operations.”
McElheney also asked that the county establish a Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC) for Madison County to ensure “in the event of a catastrophic pipeline failure that you will be prepared.”
Madison County commissioners took no vote on McElheney’s proposal Monday, nor did they schedule any future meetings on the issue. Commissioner Bruce Scogin noted that pipelines are troublesome because the federal and state governments generally rely on those companies to police themselves. Commissioners asked McElheney to e-mail them a copy of her presentation.