Pipeline company claims eminent domain

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Spokesperson refutes claims made during meeting after fiscal court passes resolution against proposed project


The company proposing to build the Bluegrass Pipeline through Anderson County confirmed Monday that it thinks it already has, and is prepared to use, the power of eminent domain to get it built.
Just days after the Anderson County Fiscal Court unanimously approved a resolution to keep the controversial pipeline out of Anderson County, company officials responded to questions from The Anderson News that included residents’ concerns about questionable tactics used by agents attempting to secure permission to survey their property.
Company officials also answered questions about whether the proposed Bluegrass Pipeline will offer any benefit to Anderson County or Kentucky, along with uses for the product the company intends to pump.
About 100 residents voiced almost unanimous opposition to the pipeline during a special called fiscal court meeting last Tuesday night at the Extension office.
No representatives from Bluegrass Pipeline attended the meeting.
Two overarching themes — land survey tactics and eminent domain — dominated the meeting, along with residents expressing concerns about the pipeline’s potential impact on the environment.
In an interview conducted via email, company spokesman Tom Droege refuted most of those concerns and made it clear the company’s position on eminent domain.
“Over the years of building pipelines we have worked with thousands of landowners and have exercised the right of eminent domain only a very small percentage of times,” he said. “Our objective is to seek mutually beneficial outcomes and have been able to reach agreements with landowners the vast majority of circumstances.”
Asked if the company thinks it now has that power and will Bluegrass Pipeline use it, Droege said yes to both questions.
“In Kentucky, we believe we have eminent domain power under state law. We believe Bluegrass Pipeline will be found to be a common carrier under state law. However, we would only exercise the right of eminent domain as a last resort.”
That take differs from one expressed last Tuesday by County Attorney Bobbi Jo Lewis, who said, in her view, the pipeline would not qualify as a common carrier.
“I don’t think land for installation applies here,” Lewis told the crowd. “Kentucky case law isn’t clear. It depends if the pipeline is federally regulated and it has to be a common carrier.
“Is it? I don’t know, but I think a good argument can be made that it isn’t. It has to be for public use. What’s the public use to you?”
“Nothing,” shouted members of the audience.
“Exactly,” Lewis said. “That’s why you need to fight this.”
Droege countered that there are plenty of public uses intended for the product that will be pumped through the pipeline, which the company says will be natural gas liquids (NGLs) such as ethane, propane, butane and natural gasoline.
“Kentuckians and people across America use products every day that contain NGLs. Some of these products include carpet, medical supplies, car parts and baby bottles. Propane, which is used for home heating and cooking, will also be shipped on Bluegrass Pipeline,” Droege said.
“In addition, industrial customers along the pipeline route are welcome to receive product from this pipeline if the infrastructure is in place to separate out the liquids. Currently, in Kentucky, there is a plant in Calvert City that has the ability to take this very product, separate the components, and then make the product available for manufacturing things like PVC pipe and other resins that are used in manufacturing.”
Droege also countered statements made last Tuesday and during a previous fiscal court meeting that NGLs pumped through the pipeline would be shipped to the Gulf of Mexico and “sold to the Chinese.”
Droege confirmed that the product will end up on the Gulf Coast with companies that will then determine where the markets for those products are.
“Based on current market conditions, the majority of the NGLs will stay in the United States,” he said. “For example, polyethylene and polypropylene can be sold domestically or shipped internationally in small pellets. Based on the economics today that includes a lower demand in the U.S. for propane due to low natural gas prices, we estimate about 30 percent of the NGL barrel that we transport on Bluegrass Pipeline will be exported.”
Judge-Executive John Wayne Conway has said several times that in his view, the pipeline would offer nothing for Anderson County or Kentucky, including jobs.
Droege claimed that’s not true, saying that 6,000-7,000 temporary jobs will be created during the construction phase, along with 30 permanent jobs once it’s built.
“Communities should also see the trickle-down economic benefit as construction personnel and eventually full-time pipeline personnel spend money on supplies, food and lodging,” he said.
“As a direct result of the Bluegrass Pipeline, communities along the proposed route will also benefit from tax revenues. In Kentucky, for example, the Bluegrass Pipeline would expect to pay millions in taxes each year.  Further, industrial customers along the pipeline route are welcome to receive product which could spur investment in new facilities along its route.”
During the meeting, landowner Ron Howard Sr. said a land survey agent who approached him wasn’t honest.
“The truth’s not in him,” Howard said, adding that he initially signed a land survey permission form but later rescinded it.
One agent identified as Chuck took the brunt of the anger from residents and Conway, who called him a “salesman.”
Others said they refused to sign documents allowing a survey only to find out later that land agents had told their neighbors that they had.
“Chuck was intimidating and in my face,” said landowner Brian Swift. “He’s a very good salesman and I’ve been around those people because I work for the state.”
Droege said the company is working with several experienced land services companies, and that homeowners should first check to ensure anyone who approaches them has official Bluegrass Pipeline identification.
“We have encountered instances in Kentucky of individuals misrepresenting themselves as agents for the Bluegrass Pipeline Project and making subsequent false representations to landowners,” he said.
Droege added that the company takes complaints against agents “very seriously,” and conducts detailed training for the agents, who are not paid a commission for getting landowners to sign agreements.
He said if a landowner has a concern, they should call Bluegrass Pipeline’s senior land representative Jim Curry directly at 918-573-7012.
Swift, the landowner, said when he pressed “Chuck” on who would regulate the pipeline, the man told him “we do.”
In a guest editorial in this week’s edition of The Anderson News, James Scheel and Allen Kirkley, representatives of Williams and Boardwalk Pipeline Partners, LP, said that’s not the case.
“The pipeline will be subject to stringent safety requirements from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Office of Pipeline Safety,” they wrote. “The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission will also approve the transportation rates and the terms of service for the Bluegrass Pipeline. This is the same regulatory process that governs all interstate natural gas liquid pipelines across the country.”