A group of nearly 20 residents gathered on the courthouse steps Tuesday to express their feelings about a Bibb County judge’s order that would allow a rail terminal and ethanol fuel transfer station to be built in south Macon.
“Y’all don’t know how important it is that we keep this plant out of our neighborhood and out of that general area because of the fact it would affect so many people’s lives,” said Arthur Hubbard, who is the pastor at Stubbs Chapel on Barnes Ferry Road, which is near the proposed facility, and who was the spokesperson for the residents.
In November 2015, the Macon-Bibb County Planning & Zoning Commission denied a conditional-use permit requested by Texas-based Epic Midstream for 2048 Barnes Ferry Road that would allow a rail spur to transfer ethanol from Norfolk Southern rail cars to Epic’s pipeline.
At the rail-to-pipeline loading station, ethanol would be pumped from rail tank cars into a proposed underground pipeline that would run to a storage tank facility already owned and operated by Epic on Hawkinsville Road.
In January 2016, the commission denied a rehearing request for the project.
Epic brought a lawsuit against the zoning commission, and last week Macon Judicial Circuit Court Judge David Mincey III reversed the denial decision. Mincey said the commission “grossly abused their discretion in denying” the application.
Monday, just before its regularly scheduled meeting and during a closed meeting with their attorney, zoning commissioners agreed to appeal the case, said Executive Director Jim Thomas.
Hubbard and others had opposed the project at the November zoning meeting and he expressed many of those same concerns Tuesday. He said the ethanol facility would not be safe, would decrease property values and would be too close to a residential neighborhood. Also, the area has limited access in or out during an emergency, he said.
“We do not protest against clean businesses coming in the area,” he said, but that the ethanol facility could contaminate the area further and be harmful to the residents.
The residents especially are concerned because of a pipeline rupture in the 1980s of a jet fuel pipeline. The owner of that pipeline was held responsible by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division for the remediation of the spill. Hubbard said Tuesday that that remediation is still taking place and that several hundred gallons of fuel have been pulled from the ground.
“The train coming through will endanger more than our community,” he said. “A catastrophic event could take place in any community that it passes through. It’s not just us that’s being affected.”
Mincey said in his order that several of the concerns noted by the commission and residents were not supported by evidence or testimony.
Hubbard said the residents feel they are being “pushed out because of industry. Industry is popping up all over everywhere ... they are trying push us out to bring in more industry. ... But they need to realize that is home for us. Most of us don’t want to leave. ... We want to stay in that area.”
Representing the National Action Network, Sarah Mincey Hunt said during the courthouse gathering that she didn’t understand why the transfer station couldn’t be located somewhere else, and she said it was about race.
“Why can’t they locate in that industrial park that’s already there?” she said. “If that neighborhood was 90 percent white, and affluent white, would they be going in there? No. Where would they be? They would be in an industrial park.”
She said she planned to call the Rev. Al Sharpton and would “rally a team of attorneys to come in here and fight for these people.”
Hubbard said late Tuesday, after learning that the zoning commission had agreed to appeal Mincey’s order, that he was glad to hear it.
“It will keep us from having to deal with something we don’t necessarily have to deal with,” he said. “It will give us more time to work some stuff up that I’ve been working on ... to get us some more attorneys. ... We just hope something can come up that will block it.”
The Telegraph learned late Tuesday that Midstream has been bought recently by New York-based Macquarie Infrastructure Corp. A spokeswoman for the company did not know how, or if, the project would be affected.