THE SOUTH has a long history, post-Civil War, of bending over and letting huge corporate and military interests claim extraordinary powers over its citizens, often at pennies on the dollar.
Savannah is no different.
From Tennessee through the Carolinas and Georgia, some of America's most scenic and fertile land and dozens of irreplaceably historic communities were submerged by massive hydroelectric dam projects throughout the 20th Century. (The James Dickey novel, and later movie, Deliverance features this plot point.)
In the 1950s an entire town, Ellenton, S.C., was moved —literally put on trucks and trains— to make room for the Savannah River Site, a nuclear bomb facility which still leaches radiation into the groundwater a half-century later.
Hilton Head was almost completely African American up until the 1960s and the coming of resort developments like Sea Pines, which cater to retirees from other parts of the country and also have the effect of pricing out longtime residents.
Down the coast in Harris Neck, Ga., the descendants of slaves had their hard-won farmland simply taken from them for a U.S. Army Air Force training base in WWII. All that remains of their presence is a small cemetery.
About the same time, the big paper mills made their way to Georgia, devouring acres and acres of timberland and sucking up billions of gallons of fresh aquifer water at no cost.
As chronicled in the classic environmental investigative work The Water Lords, in the 1930s, within a few months of the startup of the New Jersey-based Union Bag in Savannah—now International Paper—local residents noticed their wells going dry. The paper mill lowered the regional water table all by itself.
In a true expression of Southern paternalism, the noxious odor from the mill was for generations referred to by Savannahians as "the smell of money."
Because of that and other paper mills, your tap water now partially comes from treated river water instead of the aquifer—a service your taxes pay for, while the mills still pump from the aquifer for free.
The tale of the repeated dredging of the Port of Savannah—the vast majority of revenue from which leaves the local area—is a book in and of itself. Savannah has made the decision to sacrifice an entire riverine ecosystem to serve the needs of the Port, and the corporate interests which profit from its proximity to rail and road networks.
Southerners let people get away with stuff like this for several reasons. One, up until fairly recently the South was still feeling the devastating economic impact of losing the Civil War, and welcomed most any kind of investment with little oversight.
Secondly, Southerners have an often-misplaced trust in authority, a trait which, like our patriotism, is easily taken advantage of.
The latest local chapter will shock exactly no one familiar with the almost completely one-sided relationship the South has with capital and investment.
It involves the 360-mile underground "Palmetto Pipeline" through Georgia and South Carolina, built by the Kinder Morgan company and relying heavily on forced purchases of private land through eminent domain.
It's no coincidence that the route goes through some of the most impoverished parts of the region, counties like Edgefield in South Carolina and Screven and McIntosh in Georgia.
Counties where folks are likely to say, as they've said for generations, "No sense fighting it, we need the money."
The most heavily impacted single county would be nearby Effingham, with some of the pipeline initially planned to go through land which has remained in the same families literally since the Salzburgers first settled there from Germany in the 1730s.
Much of this came as big news to some of these said families, who found out about the route only recently, after much reluctance to reveal the maps on the part of both the company—who says it's a "trade secret" —and by their own county officials.
As for the possible residual benefits of the pipeline to locals, they seem to be as vanishingly small as we're accustomed to.
Savannah, as one of the only places in Georgia not supplied in part via pipeline, also has the highest gas prices in the state.
But there is absolutely zero guarantee—in fact it appears unlikely—that Savannah will enjoy any savings at all by hosting part of Kinder Morgan's pipeline, designed to transport fuel to the million-person-plus Jacksonville market (which by the way also has much cheaper airfare than Savannah's, if you want to connect some more dots).
Those familiar with Southern politics won't be at all surprised at the collusion of outside money and local government to hide important information "for your own good."
You'll also likely be unsurprised at this point that the Ga. Dept. of Transportation has only scheduled a single public meeting on this massive pipeline project: April 21 at 5 p.m., at the Richmond Hill City Center, 520 Cedar St., in Bryan County.
Prior to that there will be a rally Sat. April 18 at noon at the Forsyth Park Fountain, taking advantage of the Earth Day Festival. Maybe this is where we can finally short-circuit history. cs