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Eminent domain, disaster risks discussed at pipeline meeting

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By Brandon Mattingly

Many residents who own property along the proposed Bluegrass Pipeline have been worried about the threat of eminent domain as of late. That threat, while not expected by many to hold up in court, has still been enough to convince a growing contingency within the state to call for action.

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Attorney Tom Fitzgerald, director of the Kentucky Resources Council, visited a meeting to discuss the 550-mile pipeline at the St. Rose school building in Springfield on Thursday. He said his office is looking for the governor to call a special session to clarify the state’s eminent domain law, and that there is a need to quickly address concerns about the proposed pipeline.

“Someone recently said that the governor’s chief of staff thought this was two years off,” Fitzgerald said. “They’re wrong. They plan to have it completed and in operation in 2015. The threat to landowners—the possibility hanging out there—is an immediate concern.”

Fitzgerald said a special session should also discuss whether the pipeline, proposed by Williams Oil Company, is necessary and what the safest route would be if so.

Sen. Jimmy Higdon agreed that action needs to be taken, and said that he has been working to develop legislation that would put the issue to rest once and for all.

“We really do need to get the legislature back and tweak that eminent domain law to make sure that it’s etched in stone and everybody knows what it means,” Higdon said.

Though there’s enough ambiguity in the existing law to call it into question, Fitzgerald addressed whether the Williams Oil Company would truly be able to condemn someone’s property for refusing to allow the pipeline to pass through their property.

“The answer is likely no. The reason for that is because eminent domain, under Kentucky law, is limited to companies that are ‘in public service,’ meaning they serve Kentucky customers,” he said. “The reality is that neither the Bluegrass Pipeline nor any of those companies are going to spend the millions and millions of dollars necessary to build a fractionating plant to scoop this stuff out for one customer or two customers or a handful of customers. It’s just not going to happen.”

Fitzgerald addressed recent reports of a possible second pipeline, saying that the two would be in competition for space to build, and unlikely to co-exist. He said that one pipeline, however, is more of an environmental risk than Kentuckians should be willing to take on.

A lack of regulatory agencies was one of his primary concerns. Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to remove methane in Pennsylvania is regulated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Pipelines regulated by the FERC aren’t built unless they’re proven to be necessary and a full environmental review has been performed. The other form of fracking, as Fitzgerald pointed out, is what remains after the methane is removed—ethane, propane, butane, isobutane, pentane and others—and is not regulated by any federal agency. The Public Service Commission isn’t responsible for regulation at the state level because the pipeline would not provide a utility. The main regulation that would be required is review of river and stream crossings by the Corps of Engineers.

The placement of state parks, Fort Knox and Kentucky’s two most populated areas (Louisville and Lexington) have influenced the suggested route of the Bluegrass Pipeline. Fitzgerald said that doesn’t make the selected area any better given Kentucky’s karst geography.

“If I asked you to draw a line that runs a natural gas pipeline through some of the most vulnerable groundwater areas in the Commonwealth, you couldn’t do much better than this,” he said. “By the time any pipeline cutoff valve, automatic or otherwise, would stop the flow of this line, you could kiss that groundwater resource goodbye for the foreseeable future.”

While warning landowners of the problems that the pipeline could bring, Fitzgerald also provided advice to anyone who decides to do business with Williams Oil or any other company wanting to install a pipeline. He emphasized that everything on an easement is negotiable; from location to duration to what happens to the line if it’s abandoned or transferred to another company.

Sr. Kathy Wright shared the story of Parachute, Co., which had a pipeline installed by Williams Oil Company in 2011. By the end of 2012, a leak that had gone undetected for two weeks was discovered.
“All of the usual monitoring systems that the Williams Company has did not reveal the leak. It was an accidental discovery through other processes,” Wright said. “Since that incident, the land and water have been seriously damaged. Dangerous levels of benzene, a cancer-causing agent, have made the soil toxic and contaminated nearby groundwater and streams.

“Parachute, Co. is a small town like Springfield or Loretto, Ky.,” she continued. “Small towns often have a hard time commending the necessary attention after such an incident. I would have never heard of Parachute, Co. had I not gotten interested in this subject because of the pipeline.”

Washington County resident Dorothy Logsdon said the pipeline is proposed to pass through her son’s property in Woodford County near the Kentucky River. Mike McCain, also of Washington County, questioned what might happen to Kentucky’s thriving bourbon industry if a spill were to contaminate the limestone water required for distillation.

“If your property has sinkholes, how stable will your land be for supporting a heavily pressurized pipeline?” asked Joyce Hamilton, who resides in the St. Rose area. “Not to mention, we live in an earthquake zone.”

Though there was overwhelming opposition to the pipeline at Thursday’s meeting, one Washington County resident, Bob Mulligan, who spoke of his past working with pipelines, said it needs to be done.

“I think the pipeline is the safest way to get this stuff from A to B,” Mulligan said. “By being against this pipeline, you’re not going to eliminate fracking; it’s going to be there.”

Also in attendance was Rep. Terry Mills-Lebanon, who said he stands by Marion County fiscal court’s decision to oppose the pipeline. He and Fitzgerald also commended Higdon for taking the initiative on addressing landowners’ concerns in regard to the proposed pipeline and eminent domain.

To find out more about what your rights are in regard to the proposed Bluegrass Pipeline, visit the Kentucky Resources Council’s web site at www.kyrc.org.