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City Council Considers Board to Examine Future Aquifer Concerns

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Christopher Blank/WKNO-FM
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Memphis City Hall

Last week, the companies behind the Byhalia pipeline terminated the project that would have run crude oil through parts of Memphis. But local lawmakers are pushing ahead with plans to increase restrictions on similar projects that they say could threaten the city’s drinking water in the future.

The latest version of a City Council proposal would create a new permitting requirement for certain underground infrastructure projects. A special nine-member advisory board would evaluate applications for risks posed to both the Memphis Sand Aquifer and area neighborhoods. Then they’d make a recommendation to the City Council on whether to green light construction.

Sarah Houston with the advocacy group, Protect Our Aquifer, says that while preventing the Byhalia pipeline was the main catalyst for proposing new regulations, moving forward, there’s still a need for more local oversight.

"This ordinance will just be an extra layer of information gathering to assure that any hazardous underground infrastructure is going to really be taking the best path to keep our community safe," Houston said.

But Plains All American, one of the companies behind the cancelled Byhalia venture, is still lobbying against the measure. Spokesperson Cory Thornton addressed the city council on Tuesday saying the regulations are too broad and not within the city’s authority to enact.

“These are no longer just anti-crude oil pipeline legislation," Thornton said. "These efforts have become an anti-industry initiative. They’ll have an impact on the infrastructure that Memphis area residents rely on everyday,” Thornton said.

Members of the proposed review board would include representatives from the chamber of commerce, Memphis Light Gas and Water, the University of Memphis, city workers and a community appointee.