Woodford Fiscal Court asks questions about natural gas pipeline

VERSAILLES — The Woodford County Fiscal Court posed tough questions Tuesday night to the representative of a company that wants to build an underground pipeline to transport flammable natural gas liquids through Woodford and a number of other Kentucky counties.

Wendell Hunt, local outreach business partner for Oklahoma-based Williams Co., which has entered a partnership with Boardwalk Pipeline Partners, based in Houston and Owensboro, to build the pipeline, told the fiscal court that he was there because "we're going to be in your neighborhood, and we wanted to come in and introduce ourselves."

The 1,100-mile project would involve constructing a pipeline from northeastern Pennsylvania through West Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky, where it would connect to an existing line that runs to the Gulf coast.

The exact route has not been finalized, Hunt said. He said the companies are surveying and getting landowner approvals now.

Each magistrate took a turn at questioning Hunt about safety, how the route is being determined, whether other methods of transporting the liquids are feasible and how the companies will go about acquiring the easements needed to build the pipeline.

Magistrate Ken Reed drew loud applause and cheers from the audience after telling Hunt that he is concerned about possible water pollution and injuries that could occur if the line ever ruptured.

"I don't know how any of us in good conscience could agree that bringing this pipeline through Woodford County is a good idea," Reed said. "It scares me to death."

Hunt told the court that Williams Co. takes safety seriously and monitors its pipelines around the clock. He said automatic shutoff valves are placed about every 10 miles.

"We've got 15,000 miles of pipe," he said. "At some point there may be an incident, but that's not the normal operation."

Magistrate Duncan Gardiner asked Hunt what would happen if no one in Woodford County wanted the pipeline.

"My concerns are property owners' rights," Gardiner said. "If a vast majority of property owners were not in favor of this, I'd be very concerned."

Hunt said that Williams Co. works with property owners to come to an agreement about easements, but if that is not possible, it would seek as a "last resort" to acquire the land via eminent domain.

"I'm skeptical of that," said Woodford County Attorney Alan George. "I do not believe as I sit here today that you have that power. To me, that is critical."

George asked Hunt to ask Williams Co.'s legal council to provide him with rationale for asserting that the company has the right to exercise eminent domain in Kentucky.

George said he expects that local county attorneys in the counties affected will discuss that topic at an association meeting next month.

About 75 people attended the fiscal court meeting. There was no opportunity for questions or comments from the public.

A public meeting where that opportunity will be available has been scheduled for 6 p.m. Aug. 6 at the Woodford County Courthouse.

Williams Co. has scheduled a series of "open house" events for Aug. 6 at the Williamstown Senior Center in Grant County; Aug. 7 at the Paul Sawyier Public Library in Frankfort; and Aug. 8 at the Pritchard Community Center in Elizabethtown. All three events are from 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

After Tuesday night's meeting, about 20 citizens gathered on the steps of the courthouse to discuss the pipeline and how they plan to oppose it.

Corlia Logsdon said she has started a website, Stopbluegrasspipeline.us, "to get some alternative viewpoints out there."

She said she was "pleasantly surprised" by the magistrates' comments.

"They're asking the right questions," she said.

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