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Speaker addresses pipeline at Rotary Club meeting

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Tom FitzGerald said use of condemnation would be 'uphill battle'

By Marty Finley

Tom FitzGerald said Bluegrass Pipeline officials would have a tough fight on their hands if they tried to condemn a landowner’s property through eminent domain to attain easement rights.

FitzGerald, director of the nonprofit Kentucky Resources Council, addressed the pipeline as a speaker Tuesday at an Elizabethtown Rotary Club meeting at Stone Hearth restaurant.

FitzGerald’s optimism at the thought of such a legal battle has been fostered by a Franklin Circuit Court decision that sided with pipeline opponents who say eminent domain powers are not available to the natural gas liquids pipeline.

“This is not a utility,” he said.

Some opponents also have claimed there will be no noticeable benefits for Kentucky from the pipeline because the natural gas liquids produced likely will be exported.

The pipeline, a partnership between Oklahoma pipeline company Williams and Boardwalk Pipeline Partners of Houston, is being constructed from gas-producing fields from the Marcellus and Utica shales in Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, south through Kentucky as it heads to the Gulf Coast.

The Kentucky route winds through more than a dozen counties, including Hardin, and would connect to an existing gas line in Hardinsburg.

The Bluegrass Pipeline has appealed the ruling, but the court decision would loom over any lawsuit filed until the case is settled, FitzGerald said. The Attorney General’s office, state Energy and Environment Cabinet and some commonwealth’s and county attorneys around the state have said they do not believe the pipeline has the authority to use eminent domain.

“They would have an uphill battle,” FitzGerald said.

Should anyone be sued by the pipeline under eminent domain, FitzGerald said his agency would defend them in court to stave off attorney fees for homeowners who want to be left alone.

A bill blocking the pipeline’s use of eminent domain made it through the Kentucky House of Representatives, but FitzGerald said it will not be heard in the state Senate this session.

An attorney by profession, FitzGerald said he started receiving calls from landowners in different counties who were concerned about the pipeline, afraid their land could be condemned if they rejected the pipeline’s request.

He said he does not want to dictate what residents do with their land, but he wants them to know their rights when dealing with the pipeline.

FitzGerald also said he wants to ensure eminent domain is taken off the table so “landowners can (have some) assurance that they can say no.”

Tom Droege, a spokesman for the pipeline, said roughly 70 percent of the needed easements along the Kentucky route have been purchased. Supporters of the pipeline have said it will create jobs in the state and provide an alternative source of energy while opponents point to fears of leaks or explosions and the possibility of water contamination.

Charles Kendall allowed an easement late last year on a sliver of his property on Leitchfield Road near Stephensburg that amounts to a fraction of one acre. He has owned the land for more than 25 years.

He said the company has been great to work with and denounced the opposition.

“A lot of people are fighting it,” he said. “I don’t know why they are fighting it. It’s stupid, as far as I can tell.”

FitzGerald said one of his concerns is the lack of oversight at the federal level for these types of pipelines. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will review the pipeline because of stream crossings, but he said no other body has regulatory control.

A bill to place the pipeline under a state board also stalled in the General Assembly, he said.

Gerald Lush, a Rotary Club member and Democratic candidate for magistrate in Hardin County’s 6th District, said many local residents oppose the pipeline yet Hardin Fiscal Court approved an easement. He asked for FitzGerald’s feedback.

Hardin Fiscal Court granted right-of-way access to 151 feet of property at county-owned Taylor Bend Park, which lies off New Glendale Road. The county received a payment of $8,070 from the company for rights to access the land, according to the agreement.

FitzGerald said elected officials are held accountable to the public trust and should be careful when approving such an easement, particularly in a county with so much karst terrain, which he said is unstable as evidenced by the sinkhole that damaged several Corvettes at the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green.

“It should be a weighty decision when you allow this kind of pipeline to cross that property,” he said.

Marty Finley can be reached at 270-505-1762 or mfinley@thenewsenterprise.com.