Judge grants LG&E seizure of land through Bernheim Forest for natural gas pipeline
CLERMONT, Ky. (WAVE) - A Bullitt County judge has ruled for Louisville Gas & Electric in a long-running court case to install a natural gas pipeline that would run through Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest.
Judge Rodney Burress of Bullitt Circuit Court ruled on Mar. 31 that LG&E is authorized to seize a portion of land that goes through Bernheim’s Cedar Grove wildlife corridor for the pipeline.
On Wednesday, an unseasonably warm spring break day brought crowds to Bernheim Forest.
Some visitors expressed concern over the pipeline plans.
”It doesn’t just affect the park goers, but it affects the whole ecosystem here,” Leslie Klinger said. “The animals, plants, trees, even down to the kiddos. So, they’re used to seeing it like this, not with big paths of trees missing.”
The ruling allows LG&E to dig a 4,000 foot pipeline through a remote part of the forest. Forest supporters claim it puts at risk valuable waterways, rare habitat and endangered species.
There are fears the ruling will open the door to more intrusions.
”It’s not a small thing, it’s just one of hundreds and hundreds of situations where this development is continuing in an unsustainable way,” Greater Louisville Sierra Club Chair Terrell Holder said. “This kind of new business as usual is just not acceptable. We have to find a better way. We have to look at sustainable development, ways to grow and prosper and thrive without destroying all the land around us.”
LG&E previously said the new pipeline would benefit residents of Bullitt County, as the county currently operates on a single gas pipeline.
The pipeline will go through a portion of Bernheim’s nearly 500-acre Cedar Grove Wildlife Corridor.
Distant from areas frequented by visitors, the Corridor was intended to be protected as a safe place for nature and wildlife to thrive.
Frequent Forest visitor and Bernheim volunteer Lynn Medley questioned the ruling and its priorities.
”Actually, it’s a private company for profit that’s taking a private nonprofit’s land, condemning them,” Medley said. “So, what happens next doesn’t look promising.”
Holder said supporters are planning their next move. He said a legal appeal has not been ruled out.
If that pipeline were to go out, LG&E said thousands of customers could be without heat.
Bernheim filed a complaint in 2019 against LG&E, saying they were denied due process and did not get proper regulatory certificates.
- Hearings begin for LG&E, Bernheim Forest natural gas pipeline lawsuit
- Court of Appeals hears arguments on proposed pipeline through Bernheim Forest
- Bullitt County pipeline opponents talk appeal after legal setback
- Bernheim Forest has 20 days to make case against LG&E’s bid to build pipeline
- Bernheim Forest takes effort to protect the land on the road
- Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest files complaint against LG&E
- LG&E plans to build new pipeline in Bullitt County
Documents state at the time, LG&E had easements for nine of the 12 proposed miles for the new Bullitt County pipeline, but Bernheim was the holdout.
Bernheim argued that the pipeline could damage the ecosystem as well as some of the habitats and endangered species within the park.
The land where the pipeline would be built is being used for research of rare and endangered species of plants and animals.
In a statement sent by Bernheim Forest officials on Wednesday, the construction would “destroy habitat for several endangered bat species” and a rare population of the bluff vertigo snail.
Officials said the pipeline would pump hydrocarbons across Bernheim for the next 70 years at least.
“The procedural regulations and many laws in Kentucky (and many other states) are written to greatly favor extractive industries and highway projects over the rights of private landowners,” Bernheim said in a statement.
In court documents, Burress stated LG&E satisfied all requirements to exercise “eminent domain” over the property and grant access to start constructing the pipeline.
“While Bernheim alleges that there are alternate routes which could have been selected, this court does not find one iota of evidence to support any claim of bad faith or abuse of discretion by LG&E in the selection of its route,” Burress said in his judgment.
LG&E said its next steps following the judgment is to finalize property rights and permit approvals for the pipeline.
“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 said in a statement. “This project will enhance reliability for current customers in the area and expand capacity to support the energy needs of this quickly growing region.”
Bernheim said it would continue the fight to protect natural places and ecosystems and has not determined the next steps, but a possible appeal could come at a later time.
Read the full judgment below:
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