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Man fears natural gas pipeline will disturb cemetery

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Holder location could be more than 100 years old

By Pat Faherty

Frank Atkins wants a proposed natural gas pipeline that would cut across Citrus County to take another route.

The 85-year-old Holder resident was not alone in questioning the project at a Wednesday night public meeting in Rainbow Springs. 

But unlike most of the people speaking against the proposed Sabal Trail project, which includes the Citrus County line, his concern was not environmental, economic or safety related.

Atkins fears for the small unnamed cemetery in Holder where his mother is buried. It lies in the proposed right of way for the pipeline.

“I’m concerned about the cemetery,” said the retired school district employee. “A lot of families have people there. We’ve already got a power line over it.”

“I’ve been here all my life,” said Atkins, who owns the property. “There is another way they can go. I’ve worked all my life for it, and they come up with this. Let them go another way.”

The lifelong Holder resident said that in the past, the power company pulled up all the grace markers and now people don’t even know where everyone is buried. That includes his mother’s grave. She died giving birth to him and was buried there in 1928

He said he has called county commissioners, but said they don’t return his calls.

He said the one-acre cemetery has been there a long time, possibly 110 years. “Now its future is uncertain,” he said. “It’s up to you to reroute it.”

“Money doesn’t mean anything when you’re dead,” he said. “When I see a gas line being put where my mother is buried, it bothers me.”

“This is not an environmental concern,” said his granddaughter Samantha Churchwell. “It’s a concern of humanity.”

They were among the many people who addressed the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) staff that conducted the meeting to take public comments on the project. Most of the speakers were opposed to the project for environmental reasons. Plans calls for a 460-mile, 36-inch diameter pipeline to move natural gas from Alabama into Central Florida.

It will be capable of carrying about 1.1 billion cubic feet of gas per day. The project includes approximately 24 miles of 24-inch pipe connecting the mainline to Duke Energy’s proposed natural gas generating plant near Crystal River. 

Sabal Trail is a joint venture of Spectra and NextEra Energy Inc. NextEra owns Florida Power and Light, which originated the project in December of 2012. The Citrus County connection was added last year in response to Duke Energy’s plans for the natural gas power plant north of Crystal River.

Project spokesperson Andrea Grover, said the formal application for the pipeline will probably be submitted to FERC late this year. She expects FERC to take about a year reviewing the project before making its decision.

John Peconom, environmental manager with FERC, said they could not answer questions about the project at this point, but were there to accept public comment. 

Contact Chronicle reporter Pat Faherty at 352-564-2924 or pfaherty@chronicleonline.com.