Farm family says Kinder Morgan owes them help

Sunday, November 3, 2002

When Colorado-based Kinder Morgan Power Co. announced last week that it is abandoning a plan to build a $300 million plant near Crump, at least one Cape Girardeau County family was left wondering what kind of damage the company might be leaving behind.

"I just feel like they've got unfinished business," says Doug Seabaugh, who farms part of his mother's and late father's 650 acres near the site of the planned project.

He says he is afraid to drive his grain truck on part of the land now because of shifts in the ground. The family says a sinkhole 17 feet deep with a 25-foot diameter appeared on their property days after Kinder Morgan began pumping water to test the capacity of two test wells. They say Kinder Morgan discovered the sinkhole after finding topsoil and soybeans in water brought up from one of the wells.

Most farm wells are 280- to 400-feet deep. The 1,600-foot Kinder Morgan wells were designed to pump 2.69 million gallons of water through the plant each day, more than the city of Jackson uses daily.

The Seabaughs said theirs and other farms in the area experienced turbidity in their water supply when Kinder Morgan tested the wells. "Seven days after they started pumping I couldn't use my water," Nora Seabaugh said.

Kinder Morgan hired the Poplar Bluff, Mo., firm Smith and Company to study the hydrology of the land where the plant was to be built. "When the sinkhole formed they focussed on that area in particular," Kinder Morgan spokesman Rick Rainey said. "We don't believe the wells were the cause of the sinkhole."

While accepting no blame for causing the sinkhole, Kinder Morgan has volunteered to fill it, an offer the Seabaugh family has refused. They want to see the seismic study they say Kinder Morgan promised to show them in 2001 in exchange for letting company personnel on their property.

"The Seabaugh family is expecting Kinder Morgan to be a responsible corporation that will properly repair damage and restore the site and also appropriately compensate for those damages," said Darrel Seabaugh, another son.

First in 40 years

In 40 years on the farm, Alvin and Nora Seabaugh raised seven children and never saw another sinkhole. As plans for the Kinder Morgan project progressed, they drove to Glennonville, Mo., in the Bootheel to see a similar plant and returned convinced they didn't want to live next to one. They could see that plant from seven miles away. The Kinder Morgan project would be just over the next hill.

The Seabaugh sons say they were careful when they talked about Kinder Morgan at home because they didn't want to upset their father, who had had a stroke. Alvin Seabaugh died last week at age 81 just as the last of the soybean crop was harvested but unaware that Kinder Morgan planned to pull out.

Charles Ahrens and his son, Larry, own the farmland where the plant was to have been built. Late last week they hadn't heard from Kinder Morgan and didn't know what would happen to the wells. A spokesman said the company will do whatever the Ahrenses want done with the wells.

Rainey declined to discuss details of the company's agreement with the Ahrens family. He said the disturbance to the land consists of only three 16-inch-wide pipes sticking a few inches out of the ground. The land is located between Crump and Whitewater on Route U in rural Cape Girardeau County.

Delays blamed

In announcing it was withdrawing from the project, Kinder Morgan blamed repeated delays in the permitting process by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. The DNR had rejected Kinder Morgan's application for an air permit, saying the company needed to employ different technology to reduce smog emissions.

Kinder Morgan's appeal of that decision had continued for more than a year. A decision by the hearing officer was repeatedly delayed. Cape Girardeau County officials blamed the DNR for costing the county a new industry.

But Darrel Seabaugh is critical of Cape Girardeau County leaders who eagerly welcomed Kinder Morgan to the county, enthused about the amount of taxes the Delta schools and the Whitewater Fire Department would reap and the number of construction jobs that would be create, but not informed enough about the company itself.

"I don't think they did their homework," he said.

Asked whether the company definitely is writing off the Cape Girardeau County project, Rainey said, "We never say never. But at this point we don't see any indication we would ever receive an air permit."

The company also recently pulled out of a project in Brunswick County, Va., but Rainey said the reasons were different. "The market had just declined significantly since the start of that project," he said.

"The generation market for producers has destabilized."

Rainey declined to say how much money the company spent developing the Cape Girardeau County project. Presiding Commissioner Gerald Jones said the figure could be $500,000 or more.

Jones said the county has no role in any dispute between the Seabaugh family and Kinder Morgan.

At this point, the Seabaugh family can't prove that Kinder Morgan caused changes in their land. They don't even know the extent of any damage and can't afford to commission the studies that would be necessary.

Dallas Seabaugh, another son, said, "The damage can be further down the road."

The Seabaugh family is unsure about what they can do. "The burden of proof is on us," said Janet Loenneke, one of the daughters.

sblackwell@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 182

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