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Pipeline agents allegedly trespass

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Randy Patrick
The Kentucky Standard

Williams company representatives say they want to establish trust with landowners in negotiating for easements for the Bluegrass Pipeline. But some Nelson County residents say land agents or surveyors have been trespassing on their property.

If that’s true, a Williams spokesman said, there will be consequences for the agents.

Bill Allen, whose 70-acre farm near Chaplin has been in his family since before Kentucky became a state, wants nothing to do with the proposed natural gas liquids pipeline that Williams and Boardwalk Partners Ltd. want to build through central Kentucky. He has made that clear, but some people in those companies’ service aren’t hearing him, he said.

Allen, 53, said someone for the Bluegrass Pipeline came onto his farm at 1005 Murphy’s Lane and put stakes in his cornfields and woods after he told one agent he didn’t want him on his property.

Allen said his first contact was in August with a man named John Hearn, who worked for Coates Field Service Inc. Hearn asked for permission to survey.

“I told him I did not want them to survey my land, and I was not interested in their pipeline on my farm,” Allen said.

Just to make sure he got the message, he said, he told the agent he didn’t want to see him or anyone else representing the pipeline on his property again, and asked him: “Do you understand what I’m telling you?”

Contacted Monday by the Kentucky Standard on his cell phone, Hearn said he couldn’t recall the specifics about the conversation, and that he is no longer working on that job.

Coates confirmed that he is no longer employed by the company.

About a month ago, someone else, in a vehicle with Louisiana license plates, came onto Allen’s farm and tried to get a right of way easement, and he told him the same thing.

“I said, ‘Don’t come back on my property, because I’ll consider you a trespasser,’” Allen said.

He also called a number for the Bluegrass Pipeline and left a message.
Then last Thursday, Allen was out harvesting corn and noticed that something was getting caught in his combine. He got out to look, he said, and there were wooden stakes in his field.

“The combine tore them up, and that’s how I found them,” he said.
He followed the trail of stakes out of the field and found them “all through my woods,” he said.

He said the stakes had markings on them, and he gathered up some of them as evidence.

On Friday morning, Allen, who lives in Bloomfield, said he called and left messages for the county attorney or commonwealth’s attorney (he wasn’t sure which) and the consumer protection division of the state Attorney General’s Office.

“They’ve got me ticked off, I’ll tell you,” he said. “They remind me of high school bullies.”

Allen said the natural gas liquids that Williams and Boardwalk Pipeline Partners Ltd. want to transport from the shale fields of three northeastern states to processing plants on the Gulf Coast are highly flammable.

He also doesn’t believe the pipelines are as safe as the companies say they are.

“I’m a union pipefitter, and I install pipes. It’s not if it’s going to happen, it’s when,” he said. “It’s a mechanical system, and it will fail.”

Allen said the pipeline “is bad for Kentucky” and won’t create more than a few temporary jobs.

“It’s not going to benefit us. It’ll do Kentuckians more harm than good,” he said.

Allen’s farm has been named a Kentucky Bicentennial Farm, as part of a program in the early 1990s  to recognize historic farms that had been in the same families for 100, 150 or 200 years.

“I promised my grandfather I would take care of this farm,” Allen said. “This farm has been in my family almost 240 years, and it means the world to me.”

Allen has dozens of photos of him with his boys when they were young on the property, where they hunted deer and spent time together building the bonds that form between fathers and sons. He said he hopes to pass the legacy on to the next generation.

Freddie Boone of New Haven said he and his wife, Janet, had repeated encounters with agents trespassing on their property on Howardstown Road.

Boone said Saturday that three or four weeks ago, his wife noticed some men in the driveway leading to the barn, and one of them was “holding up a surveying pole,” so she went out there to see what was going on.

“She said, ‘May I ask what you all are doing?’” Boone said. “They didn’t answer her at all. They hurried up and got in their truck and took off.”

Then, the next day, when he was home, the surveyors were back again, and again they didn’t ask the owners’ permission to be there.

“I took off after them and asked what they were doing, and they never would answer me,” he said.

The third time he asked the question, he said, one of them claimed they were “surveying for a boundary” off Walker Hall Road.

But that road is probably three-quarters of a mile away, Boone said.

“I said, ‘Sir, you’re a long way from the boundary,’” the landowner recalled.

Then the fourth time, Boone asked the men point-blank if they were surveying for the pipeline, and one of them admitted that they were.

By that time, he said, the three men had “grabbed their stuff” and gotten into their vehicle, a white Avalanche with out-of-state plates and no sign on the SUV to indicate what company they represented. He had no idea who they were.

“I was pretty hot by then because they kept wanting to pull off,” he said.
Then they did drive away.

Before they left, he said, they pulled up a stake and took it with them, but left a metal bar in the ground.

“As soon as they left, I went out there and dug it up,” he said.

Unlike Allen, Boone didn’t report the incident to authorities. Instead, he said, he called Mike Mouser, the father of Sonya Mouser Unnoppet, a New Haven landowner and outspoken opponent of the pipeline.

“I knew she was fighting it,” he said.

Boone said Unnoppet is a friend and they own some property together, along with her father and another man, Joe Boone.

Where he believes the pipeline is planned to go, he said, will miss their property by about 100 to 200 feet. If it goes where he thinks it will, he said, it’s going to be on Barney Mouser’s land, and maybe Joe Boone’s.

Boone said he knew the men were “just workers” doing their jobs, but they should have had the courtesy to first talk to him and/or his wife and get their permission.

“It was just irritating to me,” he said. “What really got me mad was the way they did my wife.”

In mid-October, Unnoppet told The Kentucky Standard she was hearing stories about Williams company representatives trespassing on people’s property all over the country.

When he was in Bardstown Oct. 16, Scott Carney, a spokesman for Williams, was incredulous.

“If we’re trying to enter into a discussion, into long-term relationships with property owners, based on respect and mutual trust, why should we send someone unwelcome onto a piece of property?” he asked. “That would tank the negotiations before they even got started.”

“That’s not the way we prefer to do business. We prefer to have direct contact with the landowners and deed permission before we do any survey work on the property,” he said.

Nonetheless, he said, it’s “entirely possible” that it might have happened in “a couple of cases.”

When he heard about the latest allegations, Carney said if it’s proven that land agents representing Williams are going onto people’s land after they have been asked to stay away, and it can be proven, those agents will be fired.

“That’s unacceptable,” he said. “They have been given explicit instructions: Do not go on anybody’s property without authorization.”

Carney said agents for the Bluegrass Pipeline should be carrying cards identifying them as agents of the pipeline. Landowners who encounter agents on their land should ask for those cards. If an agent doesn’t have a card, Carney said, the landowner should get the person’s name and license plate number, and Williams will try to determine if the person really is an agent or someone pretending to be one.

Sometimes environmentalists will pose as representatives of a company to agitate landowners, he said.

“It happens all the time,” he remarked, then added: “I’m not saying they’re doing this.”

Carney reiterated that the company’s commitment to landowners is that agents won’t go on anyone’s land without first contacting them.

The last thing Williams wants is to have to negotiate with landowners who are already agitated, he said.