A delayed Shelby County Commission vote on the sale of property being sought for the proposed Byhalia Pipeline reflects the ongoing controversy associated with the project.
On Monday (Feb. 8), commissioners delayed a scheduled vote on whether to sell two parcels of property that Byhalia Connection Company is asking to buy in the 38109 ZIP code in the Boxtown community.
The move came as residents have ramped up opposition to the pipeline in the past few weeks, garnering high-profile support from some elected officials.
Justin J. Pearson, co-founder of Memphis Community Against the Pipeline (MCAP), told commissioners that an oil spill would be devastating and accused Byhalia Connection of having no safeguards in place to prevent a spill.
“The delay in the vote gives us a chance to build more support,” said Pearson. “The pipeline is dangerous, and I won’t stop fighting until the pipeline is officially denied.”
A heated discussion ensued, with opponents of the pipeline expressing concern about pollution of the soil and water supply and pipeline advocates asserting that the project will bring an economic boom.
Commissioners delayed the vote until March 17 when pending litigation is expected to be settled. Byhalia Connection is seeking legal remedy for easement issues with several Boxtown residents.
Prior to Monday’s county commission meeting, Pearson led two protests against the pipeline: one on a parcel Byhalia Connection is trying to buy, and the other in front of the National Civil Rights Museum.
County Commissioner Van Turner Jr. said Byhalia Connection may need to go to court for the parcels.
“The judge would have to determine if this is too much of an environmental risk to allow forward,” said Turner. “We are very concerned about the citizens in the community. We want to do what’s best for them.”
Pearson told The New Tri-State Defender that he was encouraged by the support from elected officials.
Looking toward a Memphis City Council resolution on Tuesday’s agenda, Pearson said MCAP would like to see three things happen.
“We want MLGW and the city council to decline any easement construction of the pipeline,” said Pearson.
“We also want MLGW to devise a wellhead protection plan, and finally, we want both the city and council members to pass an ordinance against any crude oil pipeline construction.”
In a released statement, Byhalia Connection maintained that the pipeline is “safe” and emphasized a commitment to continue sharing information, answering questions and listening to community expectations and concerns.
City Councilman JB Smiley Jr. (Dist. 8, Pos. 1) represents the affected community. He declined to comment prior to next Tuesday’s vote on a resolution to allow or deny approval of pipeline construction.
Pearson says he plans to meet with Smiley to find out why he has gone “silent.”
City Councilwoman Patrice Jordan Robinson (Dist. 3), who represents the Whitehaven community, said she has not made a decision.
“Dr. Jeff Warren put forth a resolution for the city council to vote on,” said Robinson. “I know that he is opposed to the construction of the pipeline. But I have asked some officials who said either way the vote goes, Byhalia Connection already has the two permits required: one from the U.S. Court, and the other from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.
“However we vote, I believe it will be a moot point.”
Pearson said despite the permits, he believes that the pipeline can be stopped.
“We will have one more rally at Mitchell High School on Monday, prior to the city council’s vote,” said Pearson. “We’re not going to stop.
“The company said it chose the route through our community because it was the way of least resistance. MCAP will make sure they know this is not the case.”