Louisville Gas & Electric plans to begin suing landowners who refuse to sell their property for the construction of an underground natural gas pipeline through northern Bullitt County.
The utility will begin filing condemnation proceedings in an effort to purchase the remaining 15 percent of land needed to begin construction, according to a Wednesday press release.
LG&E says it’s run out of capacity on the current gas pipeline and needs to build a second 12-mile-long pipeline in order to keep up with growth in the area around Mt. Washington, Shepherdsville, Clermont and Lebanon Junction.
“Limiting natural gas capacity is an unprecedented step for us, but we simply have run out of room on our system in the Bullitt County corridor,” said John P. Malloy, vice president of Gas Distribution.
But landowners who refuse to sell remain steadfast in their objections.
“We don’t want to sell our land, period,” said Vanessa Allen. “We don’t want to live next to a high-transmission gas line, who does?”
Kentucky regulators approved the pipeline in 2017 as part of a utility rate case, but the path of the pipeline wasn’t made clear until earlier this year. LG&E asked utility regulators to shield the proposed route from public scrutiny because it would create a “competitive disadvantage,” according to a filing with utility regulators.
“Disclosure of this information may increase the value of the land through which the pipeline crosses or landholder may resist construction and force LG&E to spend more to construct the pipeline,” according to the filing.
LG&E still needs to secure permits from state and local authorities including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, but that won’t stop the utility from beginning the eminent domain process, said Tom FitzGerald with the Kentucky Resources Council.
FItzGerald said once LG&E has made an unsuccessful offer on a property, the utility can proceed under the Kentucky Eminent Domain Act.
But he also said there’s always a risk in buying property before all the necessary permits are in place. The path of the proposed pipeline could impact habitat for rare, threatened and endangered species. It will also impact streams crossings and wetlands protected under the Clean Water Act.
“You also have the question of whether there are alternatives that would have less of a dramatic impact on waterways and on those species,” FitzGerald said.
The pipeline will run about three-quarters of a mile through Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest’s latest addition, the Cedar Grove Wildlife Corridor. Bernheim officials have made it clear that not only would they refuse to sell their property for the construction of a gas pipeline, but also they cannot legally sell their land because of the conservation easements in place.
“Anytime an entity like LG&E breaks conservation easements or breaks deed restrictions it means that every other conservation land and every other protected land in this state or other states is that much more threatened,” said Bernheim Executive Director Mark Wourms.
But Louisville Gas & Electric says the pipeline is necessary to maintain economic growth in the region.
“While it’s our goal to meet the growing energy demands of the communities we serve and, in doing so, partner to enhance economic development across the state, in this case it’s just not possible until we’re able to construct this new natural gas transmission line,” said LG&E Vice President of Customer Services Beth McFarland. “Until we can do that, we are evaluating requests for natural gas service in the Bullitt County area on a case-by-case basis.”
The Bullitt County Economic Development Authority says 1,200 people are moving to the county every year.
Executive Director John Snider said the county has added an average of 1.2 million square feet of manufacturing/logistics space per year over the last six years, and in the same time adding about 1,500 new employees.
In a 2016 email, John Snider also said it was “a given” that Jim Beam would be adding additional boilers that would need a supply of natural gas.
But that growth comes at a cost to landowners who have no desire to have a natural gas pipeline running through their property.
Vanessa Allen and her husband scraped together enough to purchase a 125-acre farm in Northern Bullitt County.
“Not just money, but blood, sweat and tears,” she said. “When we bought this land there was no driveway, it was a blank slate.”
Just a year after moving in, the Allens learned about the proposed path of the pipeline.
LG&E offered the Allens about $16,000 for the easement to build the 12-inch wide underground pipeline through their property. Allen said the proposed route would cut off access to about a quarter of their land.
The utility originally offered more than $11,000 but altered their plan to avoid the federally threatened Kentucky Glade Cress that grows on the Allen’s property.
“To offer us $16,000 and make 30 of our acres useless so they can profit millions, is just unbelievable. It’s just unbelievable,” Allen said.
This story has been updated.