To say the rollout of the Bluegrass Pipeline was bungled in Nelson County is an understatement.
In June, officials from the companies looking to construct the natural gas liquids pipeline through 13 counties in Kentucky, including Nelson, attended a public meeting organized by Nelson County Fiscal Court.
The local interest in the project was apparent by the number of people who attended looking for answers to their questions. Unfortunately, even the representatives who showed up admitted they were lacking in useful information.
It was not a good first step. The lack of answers struck many in the audience as willful obfuscation by an oil and energy company wanting to possibly seize property owners’ land through the use of eminent domain.
It seems, in the following months, that the energy company Williams and Boardwalk Pipeline Partners LP, the two companies partnering on the project, still don’t know how to handle Kentuckians.
To their credit, outreach has increased since June, as news coverage increased and opposition to the project galvanized in several corners of the state.
But the companies’ solution to their communication problem seems ham-fisted at best. A series of “open houses,” where any attendee looking to find information from company officials were forced to sign their names and give contact information, seemingly did little to set the public at ease. Many residents who left one open house in Elizabethtown this summer said they had questions they felt had not been adequately answered. Still others left the venue saying they had been open-minded when they walked in, but had left deciding to oppose the project.
It seems many Kentuckians just felt the company wasn’t being straight up with them.
Now the companies have turned to a less one-on-one approach. Direct mail pieces have started showing up in mailboxes and full-page advertisements in newspapers, including this newspaper.
One marketing piece features a montage of wholesome-looking, smiling families interspersed with photos of historical main streets and tree-lined streets. And of course, the American and Kentucky flags are featured prominently.
“Kentuckians work hard and play by the rules. So do we,” the mailer proclaims.
Another ad features even more smiling families, as well as first responders and a horse in front of a barn, which advertises that $25,000 community grants are available through the project on its website.
“The Bluegrass pipeline: A commitment to Kentucky’s communities,” it reads.
The problem is, Kentuckians aren’t going to be persuaded with platitudes and some suggestion that the company has some sort of ties to the state. And they’re not going to be fooled by the “economy and jobs” line, when they know full well any economic benefits are going to consist of possibly short-term construction jobs while the pipeline is built.
The point of the pipeline is to move natural gas liquids from the northeast to the Gulf of Mexico, where they will be used to manufacture plastics and other materials. The point is to make money for the companies and their shareholders.
Motivation by profit is fine; it’s what makes our capitalist economy work.
But the problem is that people are concerned that all too often, companies value profits over safety and the cost of good corporate citizenship. Too many corporations have found that it is more cost-effective to pay the fines if they get caught than to invest in preventive measures.
Company officials have expressed confusion as to the reaction they have received in the Bluegrass compared to other states. Kentuckians are different, they seem to be saying.
Maybe we are. Maybe we take a more suspicious view of corporations. Perhaps we value our rolling hills and clear streams more than others.
The pipeline officials need to remember that Kentuckians have a long history with energy companies, stretching back into the previous century in the coalfields of Eastern Kentucky. Perhaps they should read Harry Caudill’s “Night Comes to the Cumberlands.”
It might help them understand where we’re coming from.