Opponents of pipeline in Kentucky hope to use local zoning ordinances to gain control

gkocher1@herald-leader.comOctober 27, 2013 

Opponents of the Bluegrass Pipeline hope to use an existing tool in their favor: local zoning ordinances.

Citizens and officials in a couple of counties are discussing the possibility of inserting additional language into zoning laws to protect themselves from the impact of natural gas liquids pipelines such as the one proposed by Williams Co. and Boardwalk Pipeline Partners, the two energy firms that want to build the Bluegrass Pipeline.

Tom FitzGerald, an attorney with the Kentucky Resources Council, will discuss regulation through zoning Monday night with members of the Pendleton County Joint Planning Commission in Northern Kentucky.

"I will be talking about the range of authority that counties have, and I will be presenting my recommendations that could be taken to get out ahead of proposed pipelines," he said.

Meanwhile, Bob and Deb Pekny presented a list of suggested regulations for Woodford Fiscal Court to consider putting into that Central Kentucky county's existing zoning ordinance. The Peknys live along the Kentucky River, about a half-mile from where the pipeline would cross the waterway.

"We're simply trying to use what is available to us through planning and zoning to have some control and regulation of the pipeline in Woodford County," Deb Pekny said.

Pendleton and Woodford are two of the 13 Kentucky counties that the underground pipeline would cross. It would carry natural gas liquids from the Northeast to an existing connection in Kentucky that runs to the Gulf of Mexico.

The liquids are the byproduct of the natural gas refining process and are used to make water bottles, plastics and carpet.

Residents have expressed concerns about explosions or leaks that could pollute underground water supplies, given the karst topography that honeycombs the limestone under much of the region.

The Williams Co. has said that there would be regular aerial patrols over the pipeline to look for unusual conditions; that surface conditions on or next to the pipeline would be inspected at least 26 times a year by walking, driving or flying; that each crossing under a navigable waterway would be inspected at least once every five years; and that each main-line valve would be inspected at least twice a year.

Fiscal courts in Pendleton, Woodford and other counties have passed resolutions opposing the pipeline. But those resolutions don't "really have any force or power," said Versailles lawyer Brad Slutskin, who lives in Millville in northern Woodford, where the pipeline would go.

"And so we took the next step and looked into planning and zoning," Slutskin said. "To some degree, we feel like we have nothing to lose."

Under state law, counties have authority to set fixed standards of where pipelines could be routed, FitzGerald said. Planning administrators in several counties have contacted him and expressed interest in this issue, he said.

One method would be to require that companies seeking to build a natural gas liquids pipeline get a conditional use permit for those activities, which, because of their nature, would pose an unacceptable risk unless certain conditions were met. That would give counties flexibility for more frequent monitoring or a monitoring system that would detect leaks more effectively.

"You can tailor your review, your approval, to the nature of the area and the nature of the proposed activity," FitzGerald said.

In Woodford County, Slutskin and the Peknys drew up a 14-point "model ordinance" that outlines a host of things a company must do before it can construct a natural gas liquids pipeline.

The document suggests minimum "setbacks" or distances from houses, schools, other structures, electric transmission lines and ponds; requires groundwater monitoring; sets bond amounts and impact fees that fiscal court would administer to cover any negative effects to roads, livestock or property; requires a "written risk-management plan;" and includes penalties for failure to comply.

Deb Pekny said she hoped that the fiscal court would consider passage of all the provisions.

"We have the mind-set of a letter to Santa, that says, 'Dear Santa: We want it all,'" Pekny said. "We also realize there's a give and take in any situation. But in looking at the main points of that, we feel that all of those stipulations should be part of the ordinance."

Slutskin said it's "better to ask for too much than for too little."

FitzGerald applauded the Peknys and Slutskin for being proactive in addressing their concerns. In an email message, he said "they're on the right track" but that the county's authority needed to be meshed with that of the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, "so that there's no conflict and no gaps."

Woodford Fiscal Court magistrates have not taken action on the proposed ordinance since it was presented to them Oct. 1 — the same day Bluegrass Pipeline officials say they began buying easements in Kentucky. The first easement was secured in neighboring Scott County, a Williams Co. official said at a public meeting last week in Georgetown.

Woodford County Attorney Alan George, who advises fiscal court on legal matters and drafts ordinances for the court to consider, said the magistrates have not taken action to move forward with passage of the measures sought by Slutskin and the Peknys.

He said counties ought to share information and come up with a uniform zoning ordinance so there is one set of regulations.

In Deb Pekny's opinion, the issue is clear-cut for local regulation: "In my mind, we (counties) have the authority to do so. So why wouldn't we?"

Greg Kocher: (859) 231-3305. Twitter: @HLpublicsafety.

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