Repairs put on hold due to pipeline

Dale Lucus said he thinks about recent pipeline explosions that have been deadly when he thinks about working on a road in one of the northernmost parts of Lamar County. The Alabama pipeline explosion usually comes to mind.

On Oct. 31, 2016, a track hoe accidentally struck a Colonial Pipeline mainline in Shelby County, Ala. The pipeline exploded and killed one worker who died at the scene and sent five other to the hospital; one of those workers died a month later.

Lucus is the supervisor of District 5, which includes Cold Creek and Big Hill roads. Both roads cover a 6-inch gas pipeline that runs no deeper than 18 inches. Big Hill Road covers 600 feet of the gas pipeline that needs to be moved so that the roads can be repaired.

“I can’t fix this road (pointing to Cold Creek Road) by these houses because it comes through here,” Lucus said. “I can’t fix this road (turning to Big Hill Road) down to the county line because of these houses. You’ve got houses just right to the side of this pipeline, which they are saying is a foot and a half underground.”

Lucus said the roads require maintenance because traffic in the area includes school buses, garbage trucks and log trucks.

“It’s a 6-inch pipe so it’s under heavy pressure,” he said.

The problem is determining who will pay up to $350,000 to move the pipeline: The county or the pipeline company, TransMontaigne Product Services, Inc., which maintains a terminal in Collins.

Lamar County Road Manager Tommy Jones said he and Lucus had met with pipeline officials about the problem.

“Dale said he would go before the board, get the right-of-way, bring his track hoe out here and dig the ditch,” Jones said. “I thought we offered them a pretty good deal when we said we would obtain the right-of-way and we would dig the ditch.”

In emails obtained by The Lamar Times, TransMontaigne’s Kevin Sears, general manager of the Collins Complex, said on July 25, 2016, that his company’s Right of Way Department needed to have an email detailing work on the road to determine what could be done inside the pipeline easement.

Jones responded the next day, saying the county would be doing “a full depth reclamation on Big Hill Road due to numerous base failures. This will consist of digging up and replacing this entire road bed.”

Almost two months later, Sears replied in a Sept.13, 2016, email, “We cannot do any digging in our right of way due to the depth of this line.” Sears said Lamar County would incur the costs of moving the pipeline because it would require a new easement.

Jones said state officials are aware of the situation.

“The Public Service Commission has a Pipeline Division,” he said. “I have brought them down here with me and they haven’t been able to get results from them.”

Daniel Forde, a spokesman for PSC Southern District Commissioner Sam Britton, said the discussion over the pipeline has reached another level.

“The Public Service Commission is aware of the line in Lamar County,” Forde said. “While it does not fall under the jurisdiction of the PSC, the Pipeline Safety Division of the PSC has contacted the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, the federal entity tasked with addressing these lines, to make certain they are aware of the issue.”

The depth and placement of the pipeline are crucial to whether the county will be able to repair the roads, Jones said.

“This end of the road needs to be fixed, but we can’t touch it right now,” he said. “(The pipeline) should be three feet deep. You don’t about what it’s supposed to be because people move dirt and cut down roads. Things happen and you don’t know what it is. It may have been three feet back then, but you don’t know what it is now.”

However, Jones said he knows the pipeline is actually less than a foot deep in places.

“They said there are places in here that there in Quikrete bags to cover it.”

Lucus said he just wants to see the roads repaired.

“All I want to do is fix this road out here for the people and get all this fixed,” he said. “I don’t want this danger. They came out here and they agreed to do it, move it over beside the ditch and keep running into Covington County. Now, after about six months, they said we were going to have to pay for it. I don’t see where this is the taxpayers’ problem.”