Open-house meetings shaping up for proposed crude oil pipeline

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A company that is proposing a 45-mile crude oil pipeline to run through Shelby, DeSoto and Marshall counties is planning a series of open houses toward the end of January and into February, according to Deidre Malone, a spokesperson for the project.

All American Pipeline, LP, has teamed with Valero for the project. Malone on Wednesday said officials will hold the meetings along the route of the proposed pipeline, dubbed the Byhalia Connection.

“We’re finalizing the locations and dates,” Malone said. “We’re doing these open house meetings because we want to answer questions about the project and foster a dialogue with the community that will continue throughout the project.”

Community leaders and public officials contacted by The New Tri-State Defender said they want to learn more about the project before forming opinions.

The Rev. Melvin Watkins, pastor of Mt. Vernon Baptist Church Westwood, said he plans to attend some of the open house meetings to gather more information on the project and from the people who attend.

“I’d like to get a different perspective from those who favor it and those who are in opposition,” Watkins said. “I’m still learning, doing my research on the company, learning the impact of the proposed pipeline on the community.”

Watkins said his church will host an open house on Jan 23 from 5 – 7 p.m. He said he is not part of any group but he feels an obligation to inform his congregation and the Westwood community.

State Rep. Barbara Cooper said she has met with Malone and that she wants to know more about the project.

“I want to find out more about the impact this might have on the community,” she said.

State Sen. Raumesh Akbari, in a text statement, said she is concerned that the entire community understands how this project affects them.

“It’s critical for the companies proposing the crude oil pipeline to engage in an open and transparent process with homeowners, neighborhoods and leaders,” she said. “So far, Byhalia Connection representatives have committed to developing a construction plan and pipeline route that respects our families and neighborhoods.”

She said she is committed to “holding these companies accountable” to their promise.

Malone said the company is committed to transparency and will share information with the public as soon as it is confirmed

“We will send out information to the media, elected officials, and update www.byhaliaconnection.com with details once they are finalized,” she said.

Malone said company authorities have already started meeting with landowners along the anticipated route to request access to perform civil and environmental surveys on their property.

“We’ve had positive discussions with landowners about our request for access,” Malone said.

She said the company wants to earn the trust of landowners and form a long-term relationship with them.

Malone said the company has team members, vendors and partners who live and work in the communities along the route.

“Safety is our top priority and we are committed to designing, constructing and operating the pipeline in a safe and reliable manner,” she said.

  This stretch of pipeline would be a continuation of a Valero pipeline in Arkansas that drew massive protest, according to Scott Banbury, Sierra Club, Tennessee Chapter.

He said the pipeline project is part of a trend to make it easier to export crude oil to other places.

“What you’re actually seeing is our United States resources being sent to other places in the world, not for our benefit at all, but for the profit of the oil companies,”  Banbury said. “There’s really no benefit to the Memphis community at all… There’s likely to be a few jobs formed locally.”

But Banbury said he is happy to see the companies reaching out to the community at such an early stage in its development.