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Buoyed by a show of support from local organized labor and the fact that their effort to secure property easements in Anderson County is nearly halfway complete, officials with the companies proposing the Bluegrass Pipeline answered a host of questions from concerned residents during a public hearing Monday night.
Officials with Williams and Boardwalk, the companies proposing the joint venture to pump natural gas liquids from the northeast to the Gulf of Mexico, addressed environmental concerns and other safety issues while fielding questions from about 100 people at the Extension office in the county park. The Anderson County Fiscal Court hosted the meeting.
Officials said they have already acquired about 3.5 of the 7 miles of easements needed along the western edge of Anderson County, and more than half of the 180 miles needed in Kentucky. All the necessary easements have been obtained in Owen and Bracken counties.
“That’s a terrific accomplishment given that we just started in October” to acquire them, said Bill Lawson, vice president of corporate development for Williams Co.
Lawson opened the meeting by explaining what he said is the need for the project, detailing how fracking — the process of removing oil and natural gas from shale deposits from the northeast — has quickly changed energy production in the United States.
Lawson said the pipeline would carry the byproducts of fracking, which can be used for propane and a variety of manufacturing materials to make plastics and other products.
He called the proposed pipeline a “needed piece of American infrastructure” that will provide benefits not only to Kentucky but the country as it works toward energy independence.
“Once this is in place it will provide opportunities,” said Boardwalk’s general counsel Mike McMahon, and give Kentuckians “long-term access to lower price natural gas.”
Lawson said it would give Kentucky a “competitive advantage” in attracting “energy intensive companies.”
Robert Akin, director of the Kentucky Laborers’ training facility near the Bluegrass Parkway, said he and about 20 local laborers wearing matching orange shirts during the meeting support the project.
“We want a commitment to use as many Kentucky workers as possible [during construction],” Akin said.
“You have our commitment to hire local labor whenever possible,” said Lawson, which drew a round of applause.
Not everyone in the crowd agreed as residents peppered Lawson and a panel of about a dozen Boardwalk and Williams officials with questions ranging from environmental and safety concerns to eminent domain and how the pipeline would affect property values.
Andrew Berry, a biologist who lives near property where the pipeline is proposed to be buried, asked how the company intends to cross the Kentucky River and numerous streams before taking them to task about a spill in Parachute, Colo., that officials acknowledged went undetected for around 10 days.
“That was a gas processing facility and is completely different,” Lawson said. “It was discovered, corrected and we self-reported. We’ve taken all the necessary steps to remediate.”
Crossing the river and streams will be done from underneath, according McMahon. He said the companies will utilize a “horizontal directional drill” that will run the pipe 40 to 60 feet beneath the river. They will do the same with creeks but at depths determined by federal oversight agencies once the permitting process is done.
Lawson also spent considerable time explaining how the company will work to prevent leaks and respond to one if it occurs.
He said there will be a variety of leak detectors along the pipeline that will be monitored in a control room 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The company will also fly over the pipeline at least 26 times each year along with a variety of other safety procedures including balancing the amount of material that is placed in the line vs. the amount that is taken out.
Steve Sea questioned how the company can operate its business on property now zoned for agriculture without seeking a zoning change.
“We don’t believe we need to request a change,” McMahon said. “The basic use of the property won’t change.”
“Any other type of business has to have a zoning change,” Sea countered. “That’s part of our rules. If it’s not ag related, you need a zoning change.”
Hugh Archer, who said he worked as the state’s commissioner of natural resources under two governors, brought up the issue of condemnation or eminent domain.
“We have not used condemnation on this project,” said McMahon, who reiterated that the company thinks it does have the power of eminent domain under Kentucky law.
“You’ve threatened it,” someone in the audience said.
“As far as I know we haven’t threatened anyone,” McMahon countered.
McMahon declined to comment specifically on a lawsuit filed against the company that seeks a court order to prevent it from using eminent domain, but did say that by the time the suit works its way through the court system, the company expects to have obtained the needed easements and be under construction before it is finalized in court.
Bill Spears, who said his mother-in-law has been approached about an easement, said he has heard that those who allow the pipeline on their property wouldn’t be able to secure a mortgage on that property in the future.
McMahon said the company has around 10,000 miles of pipeline in the US and the issue had never surfaced until a meeting in Scott County.
“I’ve never heard that before but I’ve found no one who can give facts to support that,” McMahon said. “I tend to discount that as real.”