Property rights vs. right-of-way

Residents raise concerns about route, repairs for oil pipeline

Residents raise concerns about route, repairs for oil pipeline

jwarren@herald-leader.comApril 16, 2012 

Phillip Stokely stood on sections of pipe that were left when a crude-oil pipeline was put in near his home in the 1970s. Marathon Petroleum wants to lay new pipe on another part of his property.

HERALD-LEADER

Phillip Stokely was just a boy in 1972, when his father's house on Stoner-Ephesus Road in Clark County was damaged by construction of a crude-oil pipeline through the north edge of the property.

Now, 40 years later, Stokely owns the house, and he's afraid the same thing will happen all over again.

Marathon Petroleum Corp. is replacing parts of the 1972 pipeline, and it wants to route a new section of pipe past the south end of Stokely's home. The company's original plan would have put the edge of the pipeline right-of-way only about 15 feet from the house's foundation, Stokely says. Marathon representatives recently agreed to move the right-of-way back to about 70 feet from the house. Stokely doesn't like that much, but he said he probably will have to live with it.

"It's better, but I think it still could damage the house when their heavy equipment comes in," Stokely said last week. "The really amazing thing to me is that a congressman and a state representative can't tell who issued a permit for this thing, or even if it requires a permit."

Stokely said he sought help from both U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler, D-Versailles, and state Rep. Donna Mayfield, R-Winchester, but neither could pinpoint which government agency, state or federal, has jurisdiction over the pipeline.

"The state people say it's federal, the federal people say it's the state," Stokely said. "I don't know."

Meghan Groob, a spokeswoman for Chandler, said the congressman's office contacted several state and federal agencies to determine whether there was any government oversight on the pipeline's placement, and determined that it is "a private property issue" between the property owner and the company.

Mayfield could not be reached for comment.

Marathon spokesman Shane Pochard listed at least seven federal, state and local agencies that the company has consulted with in planning the pipeline replacement in Central Kentucky. He says the company tries to keep the route away from homes and other structures whenever possible.

Meanwhile, Stokely said he's asked Marathon to move the pipeline still farther from his house, but hasn't received an answer.

Harry Enoch, who lives on Gold Wings Road in Clark County, also isn't happy about the pipeline, which will cross his property.

Enoch said Marathon will use a horizontal auger to drill a shaft for the pipe across his land, rather than digging a deep trench. But he said the company still intends to clear-cut a 50-foot-wide strip across his land to allow for inspections of the underground pipe.

Enoch calls that "ridiculous," arguing that the cleared strip will adversely affect his tree-lined property, which he describes as a "residential forest." He said the company filed a condemnation suit against him, but he settled "because trying to fight a condemnation is an uphill battle."

"Anytime somebody comes through with condemnation powers you're going to have issues," Enoch said. "There is no regulation or anything ... no hoops that they have to jump through at all for siting an oil pipeline."

The pipeline originally was built by Ashland Oil Inc. in the early 1970s to carry crude oil from Owensboro across Kentucky to Ashland's refinery at Catlettsburg in Boyd County.

Marathon, which now owns the refinery and the pipeline, wants to replace some sections of the aging line to prevent the sort of problems that have occurred in the past.

For example, a rupture in the line near Winchester dumped between 500,000 and 900,000 gallons of crude oil in 2000. It was one of the state's worst oil spills, sending some crude into a Kentucky River tributary.

Pochard, the Marathon spokesman, said the replacement project is to prevent future spills by replacing sections of pipe "identified as areas that could be of concern in the future."

"We have an extensive maintenance program, where we can run smart tools through the lines to check things like wall thickness," he said. "We've identified some sections to be proactively replaced as a part of that program."

According to an online map, the pipeline crosses parts of 18 Kentucky counties, including sections of Woodford, Mercer, Jessamine, Fayette and Clark in Central Kentucky, on its way from Owensboro to Catlettsburg.

Pochard said sections of pipe will be replaced in several counties along the route. It's unclear how many sections are to be replaced in Clark County.

Pipe is being replaced within the old 1972 right-of-way in many areas. But in some locations, such as Phillip Stokely's property, new routes will be excavated for the pipe.

That could mean a double whammy for Stokely. A trench will be dug on the south side of his house for the new pipe. But another trench might be necessary on the north side to remove the old line installed in 1972.

Stokely said Marathon has given him the option of leaving the old line in place, although he would have to assume financial responsibility if anything went wrong with the pipe.

Pochard said development sometimes makes it impossible for Marathon to completely avoid digging near buildings.

"Part of that pipeline has been in the ground for roughly 40 years, and when it was built, it wasn't encroaching on many buildings," he said. "But the population has grown since then, and new neighborhoods and structures have been built. They've been built close to a lot of those lines."

Marathon tries to work with property owners and make them comfortable when its pipelines cross their land.

Meanwhile, Enoch said he's concerned that the pipeline will pass less than 100 yards from a 1 million-gallon underground storage tank that supplies water to the city of Winchester.

"Marathon would argue that it will be safer than the old line," Enoch said. "But pipelines do leak, and a leak there would be a very short distance from Winchester's clean water supply."

Nevertheless, Mike Flynn, general manager of Winchester Municipal Utilities, said he is not opposing the pipeline project.

"You always have a concern in regard to your water supply being contaminated," Flynn said. "But pipelines are regulated, and we have to make the assumption that it's going to be a very tight line, and that anything that could happen will be taken care of promptly."

Jim Warren: (859) 231-3255.

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