The Texas-based energy company Kinder Morgan definitely knows how to get under the skin of William S. Morris III, the owner and publisher of The Augusta Chronicle.
Allen Fore, the vice president of public affairs for Kinder Morgan, told the Los Angeles Times this year that there was a specific reason why there was so much resistance to the company’s proposed plans to run a $1 billion petroleum pipeline across 360 miles in South Carolina, Georgia and Florida.
“What’s different about this project — unprecedented — is that a landowner controls three major newspapers along the pipeline route,” Fore told the Los Angeles Times.
Apparently, that comment did not sit well with Morris.
This past weekend, Morris wrote a column in The Augusta Chronicle defending his actions.
Morris was direct and unapologetic.
“Yes, my company does publish three major newspapers along the route,” Morris wrote in his Nov. 15 column. “Yes, the pipeline would run through our property. No, I do not want it. But allow me to add this as well. The opposition forming in Georgia and South Carolina to this project may be as wide a coalition as I’ve seen. It includes state and local politicians, led by Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, as well as business leaders, environmental groups and families whose property has been in their families for generations.”
Now, it’s no secret that, not only will Morris’ property be impacted, but the proposed Palmetto Pipeline is also expected to cross over Georgia House majority leader Jon Burns’ land.
Is there any wonder why the governor stepped in this middle of this fight?
But Kinder Morgan is telling the public that the pipeline will increase competition, reduce prices at the pump and create 28 permanent full-time jobs.
The company says this pipeline is necessary.
Well, opponents are quick to point out that there are major holes in that argument.
“The Palmetto pipeline would carry up to 167,000 barrels of refined petroleum a day from Belton, S.C., to Jacksonville. It would cross the Savannah River and work its way down the Georgia coast, crossing four more major rivers,” the Los Angeles Times reported. “Many question the wisdom of running a pipeline through wetlands and parallel to a river — particularly one that supplies drinking water to more than 1.5 million people. In December, one of Kinder Morgan’s pipelines spilled 370,000 gallons of gasoline in Belton.”
That doesn’t sound good, particularly to local environmentalists.
But, ironically, now the owner and publisher of the most conservative newspaper in the South is concerned about the environment and wants to fight greedy Texas oilmen.
Hell has frozen over, folks.
“Even the Georgia Department of Transportation commissioner refused to grant Kinder Morgan certification necessary to use eminent domain. A decision they are now fighting in court,” Morris wrote in this week’s column. “Now, outside of college football, we Southerners tend to be a pretty humble bunch. But this is a time of passionate involvement with a cause. No number of ink barrels could accomplish that. The Morris newspapers are not Kinder Morgan’s problem. Kinder Morgan’s plans, Kinder Morgan’s arrogance and Kinder Morgan’s safety record are Kinder Morgan’s problem.”
Wow… bravo, Billy.
“I acknowledge my conflict of interest on this issue and have been wholly transparent in disclosing it,” Morris wrote. “But because of my personal situation, I am not going to hold back the news staffs of our newspapers in aggressively covering a story that is of great importance to our region.”
To be honest, Morris’ newspapers could actually be a lot harsher to Kinder Morgan. The newspapers’ articles have been fair and pretty balanced.
In fact, the Los Angeles Times story was much more critical of Kinder Morgan than any of the news stories in the Chronicle.
“Families in this stretch of the rural South have long passed on land from generation to generation,” the Los Angeles Times reported. “Traditionally, they planted cotton, peanuts and corn, but in recent decades most have switched to timber, which is less labor-intensive. Aside from economic value, the forests and creeks have a sentimental hold as places where families have, for generations, dipped into swimming holes, hunted deer and squirrels and fished for catfish and bream.”
“I’m trying to protect something that was passed on to me,” Jimmy Helmly told the paper. “People from away from here, with no ties, just want to make a dollar. I understand. I believe in American capitalism. But why should I sacrifice so you can make billions?”
It’s a good question. And, yes, to be fair, Morris has pulled some punches.
For example, The Savannah Morning News published mugshots of three company surveyors working for Kinder Morgan who were arrested on suspicion of trespassing on Morris’ 24,000-acre plantation without permission.
But, let’s face it, that’s just damn funny and the newspaper had every right to publish those pictures. The surveyors were trespassing on private property and you just don’t do that in the South.
Those surveyors were lucky they didn’t come face to face with a shotgun.
In fact, some of those property owners who did allow the surveyors on their land weren’t too pleased with the results.
“Hell, they ran over my pine saplings with their damn ATV,” Eddie Reddick, who gave the company permission to survey his 845-acre tract of timberland near the Morris estate, reportedly told the Los Angeles Times.
So, Morris and the Chronicle should definitely continue to pound the energy company. It’s fun to watch.
“Kinder Morgan is the fourth largest energy company in the nation. It owns an interest in or operates approximately 80,000 miles of pipelines. It has unlimited resources, an army of lawyers and consultants, and a massive public relations division to push its interests,” Morris wrote. “But no marketing campaign can spin away the threats this project poses, both to the environment and private property rights, and I intend to make sure they are disclosed.”
Fight on, Billy. Fight on.