Louisville Gas & Electric wins right to seize land for gas pipeline in Bernheim Forest
A Bullitt County judge has ruled Louisville Gas and Electric and Kentucky Utilities can seize conservation lands in Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest to build a natural gas pipeline.
LG&E’s proposed pipeline would cross less than a mile through Bernheim’s Cedar Grove Wildlife Corridor, cut down nearly 40 acres of forest, cross major waterways and impact habitat for threatened and endangered species including the Indiana bat and Kentucky glade cress.
The projected impacts did not persuade Judge Rodney Burress who said in the ruling that Berheim already has oil and gas lines crossing through the property, including an existing electric transmission line that LG&E plans to take advantage of to build its pipeline underneath.
“Other than a broad allegation of an adverse effect, there has been no showing of why the proposed LG&E pipeline would endanger wildlife any more than the existing easements,” Burress wrote in the ruling.
LG&E officials said in a statement the utility is happy with the decision, which will help to expand natural gas capacity and reliability in northern Bullitt County.
Attorneys in the case argued LG&E has a backlog of more than 600 requests for service in the area including hospitals, churches, businesses and residential subdivisions.
“We are pleased with the outcome of the proceeding and look forward to continuing this much needed project, which was approved by the KPSC in 2017,” LG&E Spokesperson Natasha Collins said.
LG&E is still in the process of finalizing property rights and permit approvals, including a nationwide permit 12 from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Federal officials suspended a key permit for the gas pipeline last year to look for critical habitat for bats protected under the Endangered Species Act.
Additionally, LG&E still needs to ask utility regulators for approval to pass the cost of the estimated $74 million project onto ratepayers.
In the meantime, Bernheim Executive Director Mark Wourms said they are considering whether to appeal the decision.
“The taking of natural lands, particularly where there are two endangered bat species, rare snails, there are clear water streams and creeks, it’s unconscionable that is completely discounted,” Wourms said.
Wourms also condemned some of the state laws the judge used to make the decision. He said they give energy companies “almost unfettered power to condemn private lands.” Among them is the state’s eminent domain law as it applies to conservation easements, which reads:
“A conservation easement… shall not operate to impair or restrict any right or power of eminent domain created by statute, and all such rights and powers shall be exercisable as if the conservation easement did not exist.”
Louisville Metro Council was expected to consider a resolution to oppose the land seizure at an upcoming meeting. It’s unclear what will happen to that resolution, but one group that’s been pushing for the resolution says the council still has an opportunity to take a stand.
Deborah Potts Novgorodoff with the Save Bernheim Now coalition said she is not surprised but disappointed by the decision.
“It’s the LG&E ratepayers, that’s us, who are going to pay for this pipeline and that’s just wrong,” Novgorodoff said.
This story has been updated.