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Kentucky Not Alone in Battles Over Pipelines

PHOTO: Landowners on the routes of proposed pipelines have a good legal basis for denying pipeline companies permission to survey on their land, according to legal experts. Photo courtesy of Appalachian Mountain Advocates.
PHOTO: Landowners on the routes of proposed pipelines have a good legal basis for denying pipeline companies permission to survey on their land, according to legal experts. Photo courtesy of Appalachian Mountain Advocates.
November 25, 2014

FRANKFORT, Ky. - It was less than a year ago a liquid natural gas (LNG) pipeline project in Kentucky called the Bluegrass Pipeline was stopped by widespread public opposition.

Similar battles are now brewing in West Virginia and Virginia, where pipeline companies have told some landowners they can survey on their land without the landowners' permission, citing eminent domain. Legal experts say pipeline companies don't yet have that right.

Joe Lovett, an attorney with Appalachian Mountain Advocates, says a company can only claim eminent domain and the right to survey without permission when it proves its project serves a genuine public need.

"The power of eminent domain is an extraordinary power, only granted for public purposes," says Lovett. "It's improper for a company just to assert its project is for public use without actually having had that determined."

Before it was halted, the Bluegrass Pipeline was calling for up to 180 miles of new line to transport liquid natural gas from the Northeast to the Gulf Coast.

In West Virginia and Virginia, utility giant Dominion Resources has sent letters to landowners warning the company might sue them if denied permission to survey the route of its huge Atlantic Coast Pipeline. Lovett and other lawyers say that is bullying.

"My best advice is don't sign anything without a lawyer," says Lovett. "No one should sell their land or go through the eminent domain process unless they're represented, and there are plenty of good lawyers around to help represent them."

Before the developers of the proposed Bluegrass Pipeline "pulled the plug" on their project, they similarly claimed they had eminent domain power, if needed, to acquire right-of-way from landowners. Dr. Len Peters, Kentucky's energy and environmental secretary, told lawmakers the developers - Williams Co. and Boardwalk Pipeline Partners - did not have the power to cite eminent domain.

Greg Stotelmyer , Public News Service - KY