Lawsuit would prevent pipeline company from using eminent domain

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By Ryan Quinn
The State Journal
A new nonprofit filed a lawsuit Thursday in Franklin Circuit Court seeking a ruling on whether Bluegrass Pipeline can use eminent domain in Kentucky.
Kentuckians United to Restrain Eminent Domain is using the suit to determine the validity of Bluegrass Pipeline’s claim it has the power of eminent domain to build a natural gas liquids pipeline through the state.
In cases of controversy, plaintiffs can sue under state law to seek a binding declaration of rights.
“A declaration of rights would afford ‘relief from uncertainty and insecurity with respect to rights, duties and relations’ as between KURE and its members, and Bluegrass Pipeline,” the suit reads.
The roughly 1,100-mile pipeline is proposed to cross Franklin County on its way from natural gas mining regions northeast of Kentucky to the Gulf Coast. Opponents have alleged agents seeking easements to build the pipeline through landowners’ properties are using the project’s disputed eminent domain authority as a threat. Pipeline representatives have said the project would only use condemnation as a last resort.
Tom FitzGerald — the attorney representing KURE, and pipeline opponents in general — said the litigation is the first to his knowledge seeking a declaration on the issue. He said the other judicial venue to clarify the issue would have required waiting for Bluegrass Pipeline to take a landowner to court over it.
Separately, FitzGerald said legislators have pre-filed several bills for the upcoming session that deal with eminent domain and the project.
KURE’s suit states it is seeking relief on behalf of board members including Penny Greathouse.
Greathouse, who owns hundreds of acres in Franklin County, told The State Journal in October that pipeline agents had offered her $350,000 for pipeline easements through her farm.
She said Thursday that representatives contacted her husband again a couple weeks ago and offered an even higher amount, which she declined to reveal.
“It’s way more than I ever dreamed of,” Greathouse said. However, she remains opposed to an easement and has cited safety concerns.
“I don’t want to make a stupid decision just over money,” she said.
Representatives for Bluegrass Pipeline and the companies partnering on the joint venture — Williams and Boardwalk Pipeline Partners — have maintained that the natural gas liquids is safe and will benefit Kentuckians. The liquids, a byproduct of the natural gas mining process, can be used to make plastics that might appear in automobiles and other products. Representatives also say the project will create jobs and bolster local tax revenues.
The pipeline proponents argue state law allows them to use eminent domain because the liquids are “in public service” to Kentucky.