Bill to block Bluegrass Pipeline from using eminent domain is approved by Ky. House

jcheves@herald-leader.comMarch 21, 2014 

FRANKFORT — A bill that would prevent the controversial Bluegrass Pipeline from crossing private property against landowners' wishes was approved Friday by the state House by a 75-to-16 vote.

House Bill 31, which proceeds to the Senate, would specify that the owners of pipelines carrying natural gas liquids do not enjoy the same right to condemn land through the use of eminent domain as do the owners of public utilities and oil and natural gas pipelines.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. John Tilley, D-Hopkinsville, said he understood that the Bluegrass Pipeline's backers so far have secured 70 percent of the necessary Kentucky land through easement negotiations without having to invoke eminent domain, and the same is true for the entire Ohio segment of the pipeline, he said.

"House Bill 31 does not stop the Bluegrass Pipeline," said Rep. David Floyd, R-Bardstown, a co-sponsor of the bill. "It will still be built. They would just have to deal with the landowners from an equal position."

House Republicans led an unsuccessful fight to strip the bill of language making it retroactive to Jan. 1. Bill sponsors said they made it retroactive to discourage a rush of land condemnations by the pipeline's backers before the bill could be signed into law. But GOP lawmakers said the bill in its current form would threaten to undo agreements that the pipeline backers have reached with willing landowners this year.

"We just might as well put up (a sign): 'Do not enter our state for business.' Because that's what we're telling this company," said Rep. Suzanne Miles, R-Owensboro.

The Bluegrass Pipeline would cut through 13 Kentucky counties — possibly passing between Frankfort and Lexington — on its way from the Marcellus and Utica shale gas areas in the northeastern U.S. to an export complex on the Gulf Coast. It would carry natural gas liquids including ethane, propane, butane, isobutane and pentane, which are used by the agriculture, petrochemical and plastics industries, and for home heating.

Many landowners along the proposed route have protested the safety and environmental risks of having a natural gas liquids pipeline near their homes, spurring lawmakers into action this year.

The pipeline's backers, Boardwalk Pipeline Partners of Houston and Williams Co. of Tulsa, Okla., say they're negotiating with landowners for easement rights and would seize land through eminent domain only "as a last resort."

"We are disappointed that the Kentucky House of Representatives chose to move forward with House Bill 31," Mike McMahon, senior vice president at Boardwalk Pipeline Partners, said Friday in a statement.

"Despite testimony from Kentucky's leading business, manufacturing and energy infrastructure representatives, the House passed legislation that could bring significant harm to future economic development opportunities in the commonwealth," McMahon said. "The Bluegrass Pipeline project has long maintained that current federal and state regulations are more than adequate to provide oversight for the construction and operation of this critical energy infrastructure project. We encourage the Kentucky Senate to consider the significant ramifications this legislation poses not only to this project but to future job-creating projects in Kentucky."

The two companies behind the pipeline are paying nine lobbyists — including Andrew "Skipper" Martin, who was chief of staff to Democratic Gov. Paul Patton, and John McCarthy, former chairman of the Kentucky Republican Party — to make their case to the 2014 General Assembly.

John Cheves: (859) 231-3266. Twitter: @BGPolitics. Blog: Bluegrasspolitics.bloginky.com.

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