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Lawmakers Tap into Pipeline Controversy

PHOTO:  Map showing general path of proposed Bluegrass Pipeline. Credit: Bluegrass Pipeline project
PHOTO: Map showing general path of proposed Bluegrass Pipeline. Credit: Bluegrass Pipeline project
September 6, 2013

FRANKFORT, Ky. – The two companies that are working together to move natural gas liquids through new and repurposed pipelines in Kentucky defended their controversial project before state lawmakers Thursday.

The developers of the Bluegrass Pipeline – Williams and Boardwalk Pipeline Partners – claim they have the power of eminent domain, if needed, to acquire right of way from landowners.

But Tom FitzGerald, an environmental advocate with the Kentucky Resources Council, disagrees.

"Negotiations under the threat of condemnation are inherently unfair,” he said. “And, I don't know that regardless of the economic benefits that may accrue to the Commonwealth, directly or indirectly, that we want to see, non-regulated, non-utilities exercising the power to condemn the property of other landowners in the Commonwealth."

Len Peters, Kentucky's Energy and Environmental secretary, told lawmakers on the Natural Resources and Environment Committee that it's the opinion of his legal counsel that the companies do not have the power to condemn someone's land.

The plan is to build 180 miles of new pipeline in Kentucky and repurpose another 160 miles to help transport natural gas liquids from the northeast to demand centers on the Gulf Coast.

The man heading the project, Jim Scheel, said the Bluegrass Pipeline would create a conduit to help unlock some of America's vast reserves.

"The pipeline, right now, will de-bottleneck a system of moving those liquids,” he maintained. “Without the pipeline the liquids will still move, but they might move by rail or by truck – and we feel that this is, and we know this is, the safest and the most economic way to get the products to market."

During the committee meeting, Sen. Robin Webb, who represents six northeast Kentucky counties, chastised the companies for how they have dealt with landowners in the pipeline's potential path.

"I'm not impressed with your answer along those lines,” she said. “And it's sort of an insult to me when I hear that you have maybe (not) worked with your landowners as you should and you're asking. It appears to me that you're entering and if you're not run off, then that's acceptance. So I'd just like a little clarification."

The company acknowledged that it has made missteps with landowners.

Its timeline is to begin construction of the pipeline in the summer of 2015. But, opponents of the project want lawmakers to pass laws to improve government oversight and clarify the eminent-domain statute.

Greg Stotelmyer , Public News Service - KY