Environment

Louisville Gas and Electric has disclosed new details about the environmental impacts of a proposed natural gas pipeline through conservation lands in Bullitt County.

The nearly 12-mile-long gas pipeline would remove nearly 40 acres of forest, cross at least six major waterways and impact wetlands, sinkholes and habitat for more than a half-dozen threatened or endangered species, according to an LG&E stormwater pollution prevention plan.

A consultant hired by LG&E outlined the environmental impacts in an October report sent to the Kentucky Division of Water for a water quality certification. 

The Division of Water has twice certified the project, but due to a recent change in federal rules LG&E has had to re-submit over technical details. LG&E expects the state will certify the plan a third time, spokeswoman Natasha Collins said.

The latest application expands on minor changes and outlines the potential environmental damages and mitigation efforts for the proposed pipeline.

The proposed path has sparked protest, yard signs and other advocacy campaigns, in addition to myriad legal challenges over permits, applications and condemnation. Bernheim is currently asking the public to write and email comments on the water quality certification.

Bernheim Conservation Director Andrew Berry said the construction and operation of a gas pipeline on conservation lands would harm soil and water conditions and impact habitat for sensitive species. Bernheim alone would permanently lose about eight acres of forest including roosts for federally endangered Indiana and northern long-eared bats, he said.

 “There are just a lot of impacts. It’s very hard for the Division of Water to look at this application for this pipeline and say there’s not going to be direct, lasting impacts to the streams, the water quality and the waterways,” Berry said.

In an emailed statement from the Energy and Environment Cabinet, spokesman John Mura said the state is committed to promoting economic development and protecting the environment. The Division’s water quality review does not evaluate the impacts on sinkholes or bat roosts, Mura said.

Construction and Operation

In 2015, the makers of Jim Beam bourbon asked LG&E to supply additional natural gas to expand operations at its flagship site in Clermont, but didn’t want to pay for a new gas pipeline, according to a timeline assembled last June by Kevin Smith, vice president of public affairs for Beam Suntory. 

LG&E received the initial approval from utility regulators in 2017 to build a 12-inch-wide natural gas pipeline to supplement capacity in northern Bullitt County. 

The proposed path of the 11.84-mile pipeline crosses through forests, farmed fields, residential backyards and about three-quarters of a mile through Bernheim’s Cedar Grove Wildlife Corridor, according to the stormwater pollution prevention plan compiled by Cardno, LG&E’s consultant.  

LG&E plans to install the pipeline using horizontal drilling and a track-mounted backhoe digging trenches at least three feet deep.  The proposed right of way for the pipeline is about 50 feet wide, but construction crews plan to clear/mow as much as 150 feet depending on the area, according to the stormwater pollution prevention plan. In total, the report estimates crews will clear about 38.71 acres of forested habitat to install the new pipeline.

The proposed pipeline path crosses six major waterways including Cox Creek and Cedar Creek, nine wetlands and several sinkholes— though the report notes that a detailed survey of sinkholes in the area was not completed.

After the pipe is installed, crews will backfill the soil and plant it with a seed mix. They’ll also seed wetlands and areas that include at least nine of the remaining populations of the federally threatened Kentucky glade cress with a native mix. 

The Kentucky glade cress is a small, delicate plant with white blossoms that grows nowhere else in the world and has only an estimated 50 populations left in the state.

“Several known populations of the federally threatened Kentucky glade cress were identified within the project area, and areas of glade cress critical habitat were identified adjacent to the project area,” according to the report.  

The report counted as many as eight threatened or endangered species in the vicinity of the project area including glade cress and Indiana and northern long-eared bats. LG&E plans to make a contribution to the state’s Imperiled Bat Conservation Fund to make up for the loss of bat habitat.

Potential sources of pollution during construction include fertilizer, sediment, concrete washout fluid, hydraulic oil/fluids, gasoline and diesel fuel.

The most recent application also includes the possibility that LG&E could add a dewatering structure that would discharge wastewater used to flush the pipeline onto conservation lands. 

Addressing Impacts

Collins with LG&E said any potential environmental damages caused during construction of the pipeline will be addressed as part of the permitting process, which includes state and federal standards.  

“In addition, as part of its planning work on this project and others, LG&E takes measures to minimize various types of potential impacts,” Collins said in an emailed statement. “Efforts on this project include routing the proposed natural gas transmission line parallel to existing utility easements where possible, avoiding critical Kentucky Glade Cress habitat and using appropriate construction practices to protect streams when working in close proximity to or crossing them.”

Berry with Bernheim Forest said that even with those measures there will be a number of temporary and lasting impacts to habitat and to water quality. 

“We’re going to see things impacted along the waterway from the trenching and blasting that are going to be required to put in the pipeline, sedimentation, altering stream morphology, and impacts to species,” he said.

Kentucky’s Division of Water is accepting public comments on the certification until the evening of December 18.  

Regardless of whether the Division of Water issues its water quality certification, LG&E still has to contend with a number of other roadblocks including additional permits and lawsuits such as the ongoing condemnation suit to seize lands necessary to build the pipeline.

 

Ryan Van Velzer is WFPL's Energy and Environment Reporter.