Judge reverses Macon zoning decision, says ethanol fuel station can be built

Macon's zoning board denies rehearing for ethanol transfer station

The Macon-Bibb County Planning & Zoning Commission denies a rehearing request that would allow an ethanol rail transfer station for Epic Midstream.
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The Macon-Bibb County Planning & Zoning Commission denies a rehearing request that would allow an ethanol rail transfer station for Epic Midstream.

A Bibb County judge said the Macon zoning commission “grossly abused their discretion in denying” an application for a permit for a rail terminal and ethanol fuel transfer station in south Macon.

Macon Judicial Circuit Court Judge David Mincey III reversed the denial decision made by the Macon-Bibb County Planning & Zoning Commission in late 2015.

“The development of the proposed site shall be permitted,” Mincey wrote in his final order dated Monday in a civil case brought by Epic Midstream LLC against the commission.

The commission agreed in November 2015 to rezone about 50 acres at 2048 Barnes Ferry Road from an agricultural district to a wholesale and light industrial district for Houston, Texas-based Epic Midstream. The site was to be combined with an adjacent 30-acre parcel that was already zoned for industrial uses.

However, at that same meeting, the commission denied a conditional-use permit on the site to allow a rail spur to transfer ethanol from Norfolk Southern rail cars to Epic’s pipeline.

Then in January 2016, the commission denied a rehearing request for the project, and Epic filed the lawsuit.

Epic plans to build a rail spur from the main rail line already on the property with a loop rail about a mile long. The loop is expected to accommodate about 80 rail cars and the ethanol rail-to-pipeline loading station would accommodate about 16 rail cars at a time.

At the loading station, ethanol would be pumped from rail tank cars into a proposed underground pipeline that would run in the right of way of Barnes Ferry Road to Hawkinsville Road and terminate at the storage tank facility owned by Epic at 6225/6230 Hawkinsville Road.

The unloading of 80 rail cars is expected to be completed within a 18-24 hour timeframe.

Several residents who live near the site had objected to the proposed project saying it wouldn’t be safe, would be noisy and would decrease property values. The residents especially were concerned because of a pipeline rupture in the 1980s of a jet fuel pipeline. The owner of the pipeline was held responsible by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division for the remediation of the spill.

Commissioner Jeane Easom said during one of the zoning meetings that she had a problem with Epic’s product.

“The more I learn about ethanol, the more concerned I became with it being in this residential area,” she said.

Mincey said in his order that several of the issues brought up by residents and commissioners were not supported by evidence or testimony.

“Light, noise, and traffic were found to be already experienced by this area and any additional effect was minimal at best,” and that those conditions would be the same ones caused by several other uses that are already permitted on that property.

Epic’s attorney, Bob Lovett with Macon-based Lovett & Myers LLC, said he believes the reason Epic prevailed in the case is because it presented “reliable information and evidence regarding the proposed use.” Also, Epic presented written information and expert witnesses at the meetings to support their application.

“Generalized fears and suspicions do not rise to the level of information or evidence which will support a grant or denial of the permit by the commission,” Lovett said. “The commission denied it because they did not follow the law and make a proper decision.”

Chairman Kamal Azar and the commission’s attorney, Pope Langstaff, did not provide a response Wednesday to a Telegraph request for comment regarding the judge’s order.

The commission has 30 days to file an appeal to the order.

Linda S. Morris: 478-744-4223, @MidGaBiz