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Pipeline opponents organize, offer advice to landowners

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By Linda Ireland

If LaRue Countians do not want a pipeline carrying toxic natural gas liquids crossing their properties, they should prepare to fight – on their own.

“Don’t rely on local government – cities and counties have virtually no power (to stop the pipeline),” said LaRue County Judge/executive Tommy Turner. If you don’t want it, you’ll have to be the ones to do the legwork … don’t think there is anyone who can step in for you.”

Turner was among about 60 people who attended Thursday’s informational meeting on the proposed Bluegrass Pipeline at Hodgenville City Hall. He fielded a few questions - but the session was organized and led by Nelson County landowners. They have been holding open houses – and even going door-to-door to inform the public on the scope of the pipeline, what impact it could have on property values and the environment and what public safety and health risks could occur if the pipeline should rupture or leak.

Williams and Boardwalk Pipeline Partners, based in Tulsa, Okla., intends to run underground lines from Pennsylvania to the Gulf Coast, connecting with an existing pipeline in Hardinsburg. The entire route covers 1,150 miles, according to the Williams’ website, but only 500 miles will be new construction.

Natural gas liquids are a byproduct of natural gas drilling, and consist mainly of ethane, propane and butane. They’re used to make plastics and fuels.

They’re highly flammable and leaks can contaminate water and soil.

Williams’ land agents have been attempting to secure easements to cross properties where the line will run. At least one farmer near Glendale was offered a contract Friday – which he rejected.

Wayne Dobson, who owns several hundred acres in the Glendale Road area, said he was approached several weeks ago by land agents. He told them to leave and not come back.

Turner said at Thursday’s meeting that land agents also have been talking with people in the South Fork area.

New Haven landowner Sonya Mouser-Unnoppet discussed an incident in Parachute, Colo., where a Williams’ pipeline leaked benzene into a creek.

The spill from a 4-inch pipeline at the Williams energy plant released 10,122 gallons of natural gas liquids into soil along the creek, according to a Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment document.

It took two months before the company began cleanup.

“One hundred thirty tons of contaminated soil has been stockpiled,” she said. “They don’t care about Parachute … what makes me think they’re going to care about us?”

Benzene is a known carcinogenic.

Terry Geogehegan, Nelson County landowner and commonwealth’s attorney for LaRue, Nelson and Hart counties, opposes the pipeline and is bothered by the lack of state and federal oversight.

“If they get this thing up and running, there is no way to verify what they’re putting through that pipeline,” he said.

Tom FitzGerald, director of the nonprofit Kentucky Resources Council, also spoke at the meeting.

He has asked Gov. Steve Beshear to place regulation of NGL pipelines on a special session agenda planned for later this month to address legislative redistricting.

In a statement released this week, Beshear said his staff is reviewing the issues and monitoring the debate, but because there are “a number of issues to be resolved before any definitive action can be taken by the Bluegrass Pipeline owners, including whether the company can use ‘eminent domain’ to acquire right of way, there appears to be no need to place this matter on the agenda for the August special session.”

Doing so, the governor said, would add several days to the agenda at a cost of $60,000 a day. “If we find that there is a need for state government to change its role in this process to increase protections for our landowners or the protection of our environment, we will have adequate time to take any necessary action in the regular session that begins in January 2013.”

FitzGerald said natural gas liquids have little oversight, compared to natural gas pipelines. The NGL pipelines are regulated by the Interstate Commerce Act.

FitzGerald said his organization is asking that a comprehensive environmental impact statement be required for the Bluegrass Pipeline.

Kentucky’s land (sinkholes and caves) is “very vulnerable to contamination,” he said.  A leak of NGLs could be “locally devastating.”

The only real federal jurisdiction is in regards to setting rates, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has authority to address the pipeline when it impacts waterways and aquatic life, FitzGerald said.

FitzGerald said LaRue County was “a key county” in Williams’ plans for the pipeline.

“It’s a good county to try to stop them,” he said.

The other issue FitzGerald addressed was the possibility the company could invoke eminent domain, which would allow it to condemn a property legally because the pipeline is considered for the common good.

FitzGerald is convinced the company has no authority to use eminent domain to force property sales, and he called on anyone who has been threatened with condemnation by Williams to reach out to his agency for assistance.

Mike Zoeller, who works with Nelson County Planning and Zoning, said residents do not have to let surveyors on their property. They have the legal right to refuse them entry onto their property, he said, and they can rescind permission to perform a survey if granted.

Zoeller encouraged residents to “be smart – and don’t sign anything (without speaking with an attorney first).”

“Decide what your property is worth – not them.”

Amy Boone, one of the organizers of the meeting, said her father had given permission for a survey but later rescinded it.

He made a comment that “he felt like he gave his keys to a thief to come in and look around,” she said.

The contract being offered is for a one-time payment based on the size of the pipe. Williams is proposing a 24-inch pipe with a 50-foot permanent easement (100-foot during construction).

“They’re going to call it an easement, but they’ll control it,” Zoeller said. He added that the contract he saw gave an “open-end” agreement for Williams to do soil bores and surveys at “any time.”

Franklin, Scott and Marion County Fiscal Courts have passed a resolution opposing the natural gas liquids pipeline.

The move carries no legal power but sends a “strong message,” said Boone.

Donna Boone Essex, a Loretto resident who owns land in LaRue, Marion and Nelson counties, asked Turner if an ordinance could be put in place to protect the county. Turner said planning and zoning could consider the matter. Fiscal court and the City of Hodgenville would have to approve any resolutions PZ developed.

Most people at the meeting seemed to be opposed to the pipeline – but at least one person said, after the meeting, he would welcome the money it would bring.

The management committee of Bluegrass Pipeline Company, LLC – James Scheel of The Williams Companies, Inc., and Allen Kirkley of Boardwalk Pipeline Partners, LP, composed a letter to The LaRue County Herald News.

The letter said recent news stories “have given many Kentuckians an incorrect view of this project and what it means for the Commonwealth. We would like to set the record straight and inform you of three important facts about the Bluegrass Pipeline.  Once in operation, it will:

1. Be a safe and reliable system for delivering critical natural gas liquids used to create the fuels and products Americans depend on every day.  This pipeline will also provide vital domestic manufacturing jobs that cannot be sent offshore.

2. Ensure that Kentucky is well-positioned for the future of energy distribution and that America is on a path toward energy independence.  

3. Drive economic development by bringing new tax dollars into the state and local economies.”

The letter goes on to say that thousands of miles of pipelines operate under Kentucky and “you don’t hear much about them because pipelines have been one of the most-trusted, safe and efficient means of transporting important natural resources for nearly a century.”

The letter states the Pipeline will begin operation in the fourth quarter of 2015 and will meet “all federal safety standards including being pressure tested prior to the introduction of NGLs.”

Williams and Boardwalk will hold an open house 5-7:30 p.m. Aug. 8 at the Pritchard Community Center in Elizabethtown.  The company does not plan to hold a meeting in LaRue County.

The company’s website, http://bluegrasspipeline.com/, has a list of several meetings planned in upcoming weeks.

Opponents of the pipeline have gained about 1,300 signatures.