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A welcome

Petal Gas Storage building big pipeline in East Mississippi

MERIDIAN — The vast amount of equipment first got the eye of local people. There are a minimum of 50 of all types of trucks and assorted earth moving equipment located just east of Meridian en route to the Sonny Montgomery Industrial Park.

Local engineer Gene Damon said in awe, “It looks like they’re getting ready to move Meridian.”

All of that led to an investigation, which leads to a story worthy of Perry Mason — and has a big economic impact.

The equipment belongs to Murphy Brothers Inc., out of East Moline, Ill. The sign at the entrance says they do “Pipelines and Hydromatic Testing.” And the property is leased from local timber entrepreneur Ralph Morgan. He could only recall dealing with someone named “Hacksaw.”

The plot thickens

A visit to “John” in the mobile home that serves as the Meridian office resulted in a referral to Laurel.

“This is just a small operation,” John said. “The main office is in Laurel. They can tell you all about it.”

Nick Walters, Murphy’s manager of the Laurel headquarters, refers to Meridian as “just a depot,” and said it was established sometime ago after Murphy completed a pipeline near Quitman. He refers any further inquiries to Mel Scott, who only identified himself as a spokesman for

El Paso Corporation in Houston, Texas. A research report from broker A.G. Edwards calls El Paso one of the largest energy companies in the U.S.

Scott then arranged a combination e-mail and recorded telephone conference interview with David Hayden, senior VP of Petal Gas Storage, L.L.C., a subsidiary twice removed of El Paso Corp. Hayden’s office is in Shreveport, La. And here’s the story.

One big deal

The laying of a 59-mile pipeline between Petal and Enterprise is a big deal.

The office of Mitch Stennett, president of the Economic Development Authority of Jones County, is near Laurel’s Murphy headquarters.

“You ought to see the pickup trucks leaving here every morning when I get to work,” Stennett said. “The Executive Inn and the KOA Campground are booked solid. All of that’s a big boost for our economy.”

According to Hayden, the laying of the 36-inch pipeline employs approximately 550 contractor and company personnel. Obviously they’re well paid (no one would discuss payroll amounts) because they come from all over the U.S. — many lead a vagabond existence to work for Murphy — but some are local. The projected completion date is early summer, so there’s nothing lackadaisical about the digging and laying.

That’s confirmed where the pipeline is crossing Interstate 59 just north of the Pachuta exit. Huge trailer trucks loaded with wooden “mats” measuring about 24 feet long are pounding the country roads, some of which have been newly graveled. Hayden said that more than 10,000 of those mats will be used in this project.

They’re in a hurry

The mats provide equipment access to the pipeline route — and temporary signs have the Murphy initials and road number on them to make sure no trucks get lost in the wilds of Mississippi. And everyone from the pipeline diggers to the truck drivers is in a hurry.

The pipeline will carry gas from a 130-acre underground salt dome storage facility near Petal to an interconnection with Southern Natural Gas (another El Paso Corp. subsidiary). That interconnection is near Enterprise and the natural gas will be used for electric power generating plants that are springing up all over the country.

Hayden said that establishing the route for a pipeline is a very involved process. According to him, Petal Gas always seeks the route that carries the least impact on the environment, including avoiding possible archeological damage. Three different routes were studied for the current project using aerial photographs. After checking land records to determine the owners of the property, right-of-way permission is sought for on-the-ground surveys, then appraisals begin for pipeline right-of way acquisition.

“We base our right-of-way offers on research of local land values always keeping in mind that each property is different and dependent on such factors as timber and crop damage, hunting rights and impact to the remainder of the property,” Hayden said.

The 30-foot wide route selected is alongside a Tennessee Gas Transmission pipeline. “That had the least impact on the environment and the landowners,” Hayden said. “And (Tennessee Gas) gave us temporary work space on their property.”

Murphy Brothers was the winning bidder among 10 other bidders for the project, Hayden said.

Steve McKenna is owner of McKenna Ranch about two miles northwest of the Pachuta exit. The new pipeline and Tennessee Gas go right through his property. Because of the possible danger to the workers during turkey season — and the likely prospect that all the digging and hauling would scare off the turkeys anyway — Petal Gas bought out McKenna’s turkey season.

“They were very professional with me,” McKenna said of the Petal negotiators. “They were straight and above board. And this gives us an opportunity to do some maintenance and improvements to our facilities.”

As for the Murphy crews building the pipeline, McKenna said, “I visited with six of them the other day and they were from six different states. That bunch is as courteous and nice as any people I’ve ever dealt with.”

According to Hayden, no additional projects are planned for the area. El Paso spokesman Mel Scott said: “This is all routine to us. We like to get in and get out and return everything to normal as quickly as possible.”

With all the damage done to the East Mississippi economy by Burlington Mills shutdown and other recent plant closings, the pipeline provides a sizable and welcome, although temporary, economic boost to the area.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Bill Johnson Jr. at lanjohnson@aol.com.

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