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Updated: 11/16/2013 08:00:01AM

Open house on proposed natural gas pipeline draws more than 100 people

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More than 100 people attended an open house Thursday night on a proposed underground natural gas pipeline that could run through eastern Polk County.

Florida Southeast Connection LLC hosted the event at the Polk State College Lake Wales Arts Center to talk about the proposed pipeline route and receive input from the community.

The 126-mile pipeline will extend from Kissimmee to Martin County. Approximately 55 miles of the pipeline will be put down in Polk, the company said.

According to a press release, natural gas is a clean-burning, affordable, U.S.-produced fuel that is essential to Florida’s economy.

Natural gas is a leading electricity fuel source in the state. Approximately 68 percent of the electricity Floridians use is generated by natural gas power plants. Natural gas has many advantages. It’s the cleanest fossil fuel, abundantly available in the U.S. and more affordable than imported oil.

However, as of now, the state has only two major pipeline systems to deliver the natural gas necessary to generate power for millions of residents and businesses throughout Central and South Florida. As Florida’s economy improves and the needs of Floridians grow, the addition of a new, underground system is essential to ensure the state has continued reliable access to natural gas.

The new system will comprise two new natural gas pipelines that will be built by private companies in the years ahead, following an extensive regulatory and public review process.

A number of agencies will have to sign off on the project. They include the water management districts, Department of Environmental Protection, Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

If regulatory approvals and permitting stay on the current schedule, construction of the Florida Southeast Connection pipeline will begin in April 2016, It is scheduled to be in operation in May 2017.

“Most people have not experienced natural gas pipelines,” said Bob Shana, director of the pipeline. “A natural gas pipeline is actually buried underground. It is buried underground a minimum of 30 inches to 3 feet. Once the pipeline is in place, the ground is reclaimed. That property can be used for any purpose except to place a permanent dwelling or structure or to put in trees that have deep roots.”

It is not known at this point how many property owners in Polk will be affected by the proposed pipeline. Those owners should be contacted beginning in the spring of next year.

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