Shelby Co. Commissioners delay vote on controversial Byhalia Pipeline

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Plans for the controversial Byhalia Pipeline remain up in the air, despite another night of fiery debate. Shelby County Commissioners were set to vote on whether to sell two parcels of property for the Byhalia Pipeline project Monday but delayed a vote which would allow the Byhalia Connection Company to purchase land in area code 38109.

Opponents argue the pipeline could pollute the water in the neighborhood, while the company argues it could boost the economy.

“An oil spill would be devastating to this community and there is nothing, no safety measures to prevent a spill from occurring,” said Justin Pearson.

Pearson is the co-founder of Memphis Communities Against Pipeline. The organization protested outside of the Shelby County Commissioner meeting urging leaders to keep a moratorium in place that would block interested buyers like the Byhalia Connection Company from purchasing two parcels of land in area code 38109.

ORIGINAL STORY: Memphis councilmember fears Byhalia pipeline could be similar to Flint’s water situation

The company plans on building a 49-mile crude oil pipeline that would run from Memphis to Marshall County, Mississippi.

“We’ve been inside the community and we have yet to find a single resident who says ‘oh I do want a crude oil pipeline going through my water, oh I want a crude oil pipeline going through our neighborhood and disrupting our future,’” said Pearson.

During Monday’s meeting, there were heated discussions about this which ultimately delayed the decision until March 17 pending litigation in court.

“The judge would have to determine if this is too much of an environmental risk to allow forward,” said Commissioner Van Turner. “We are very concerned about the citizens in the community. We want to do what’s best for them.”

Meanwhile, a spokesperson with the Byhalia Connection Company said the project is safe and they will continue to share information, answer questions, and listen to the community’s expectations.

The company told FOX13 the pipeline would boost the economy and bring tax revenue services like public safety, public schools, and road improvements.

Pearson said he will protest until the pipeline is officially denied.

RELATED: Residents in parts of South Memphis join councilman against proposed Byhalia Pipeline

“The job of a crude oil pipeline company is to make profits for shareholders not to care about Memphians’ drinking water, not to care about what the community needs, not to care about the community themselves,” said Pearson.

There are still questions about if the company can purchase the land.

Commissioner Turner said he believes the company needs to take the county to court in order to buy the land while the company said they are having discussions with their legal team.

Earlier in the day, protesters took to the streets of downtown Memphis demanding elected leaders do something to stop the Byhalia pipeline from coming to South Memphis.

Protesters stopped in front of the Shelby County Commission to demand commissioners take a stand.

People who live in South Memphis made it clear they do not want a pipeline in their community.

Protesters walked from the National Civil Rights Museum to the Shelby County Commission to demand that commissioners take action before it’s too late.

“We are calling on the Shelby County Commissioners to relook at agenda item 15 and stopping the sale of our land to Byhalia Pipeline LLC,” said Justin Pearson, co-founder of Memphis Community Against the Pipeline organization.

The Byhalia connection pipeline would cut through South Memphis which includes Westwood, Boxtown and Whitehaven. The project seeks to run a crude oil pipeline system nearly 45 miles connecting Memphis to Marshall County, Mississippi.

“If the people can’t express themselves, I thought that was what representatives were for. Don’t come to our neighborhood only when you want our vote. Come and help us,” said Batsell Booker, president of the Boxtown Neighborhood Association.

Booker, along with others in his community, fear the pipeline will cause health issues and burden African American communities already struggling for equitable healthcare.

Plains All American Pipeline, the company that wants to build the pipeline, said in part, “we want our neighbors to know that we’re dedicated to pipeline safety and ensuring that our pipelines meet or exceed the applicable standards for pipeline construction and operation.”

Residents still see it as a risk factor.

“They won’t drink the water that we drink. They’re not from the community that we’re from, so we’ve got to stop looking to pass the buck to people and start looking to take ownership for our city.

RELATED: Shelby Co. Commissioners set to vote on pipeline today

Plains All American Pipeline said it has a team of about 180 safety and environmental professionals.

Plains All American Pipeline also released other facts and answers to common questions:

  • We are pleased to have worked with landowners to secure agreements for 94% of the route. Residents retain ownership of their land; our agreement allows us to construct the pipeline and conduct occasional maintenance. Our offers are above market value.
  • In addition, of the individual parcels of property the project would cross in Shelby County, 93% of these (62 of 67) are vacant lots and do not have residential structures. Of the parcels with a residential structure, we’ve reached agreement with 4 of the 5 landowners. We will continue to negotiate mutually beneficial easement agreements with all remaining landowners along the project footprint.
  • We want to have a good relationship with landowners, because we are planning to be neighbors for a long time. Byhalia Connection is a common carrier pipeline with the option to use eminent domain under Tennessee and Mississippi law. Although it has been necessary to initiate eminent domain proceedings in select situations, we are still working to find mutually beneficial agreements with all remaining landowners.
  • During every phase of pipeline design, construction, and operation, we put measures in place to ensure the safety and protection of the aquifer. Drinking water sources within the aquifer are located at a substantially greater depth than our pipeline, which will typically be at 3-4 feet below the surface. We’ve spent over 10,000 hours to understand the unique conditions along the route so we could design the pipeline to safely operate within the local environment.
  • We take safety very seriously and have a team of more than 180 safety and environmental professionals dedicated to administering our safety programs and practices. As a company, we safely transported more than 90 billion gallons of crude oil last year. During that time, we had 1 federally reportable pipeline release – it was caused by a construction crew, not working for Plains, hitting a pipeline while doing road maintenance work. As a company, we’re pleased with the safety performance improvements we’ve made in recent years but will not be satisfied until we have zero incidents or injuries.
  • Pipelines like this one, constructed using the latest materials and technology, do not cause cancer or elevated health risks.
  • Our goal for this project is to safely and responsibly build and operate a pipeline that will be a long-term benefit to the community. This project will bring an economic infusion of over $14 million to the area during construction and will pay property taxes every year the line is in service. Once in operation, the pipeline will pay an estimated $3 million in annual property taxes to municipalities along the route. In 2020, we provided more than $1 million in donations to Mid-South charitable organizations and we anticipate providing similar levels of community support in 2021.