LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – About 200 people marched to the steps of Louisville Gas & Electric’s downtown headquarters Friday afternoon to protest the utility’s planned natural gas pipeline near Bernheim Forest.
Flanked by police officers, the group chanted and carried signs opposing the 12-mile line that would run through central Bullitt County, crossing land Bernheim has assembled for a conservation and wildlife corridor. Bernheim has refused to sell an easement for the project.
“We love Bernheim! Stop the pipeline!” the marchers shouted as they left a rally at Jefferson Square and began the five-block trek to LG&E’s offices at Second and Main streets.
It was the largest public demonstration yet against the gas transmission line, which would provide backup service to an existing distribution system and aid future business users along Ky. 480 and Ky. 245 near Interstate 65.
LG&E has yet to acquire the final 11 parcels it needs for the project, including two owned by Bernheim. The utility has filed condemnation lawsuits in Bullitt Circuit Court to obtain the land through eminent domain.
Prior to the march, LG&E issued a news release saying its route “is the best path forward for providing future natural gas service into the area.” It warned this week that several warehouses envisioned for Shepherdsville and a housing development near Mount Washington haven't moved forward because there's not enough existing pipeline capacity.
But those arguments weren’t addressed on Friday. Instead, some pipeline opponents focused on the impact to Bernheim’s land and the species that rely on it, while others tied the project to climate change linked to fossil fuel use.
“We really need to stop overlooking science and we need to stop listening to corporations and the money they have and actually do something about climate change--and destroying forests is not the answer to that,” said Austin Adam, who called Bernheim a “jewel so close to our amazing city.”
Bernheim conservation director Andrew Berry told the crowd at Jefferson Square that forests are under fire from the Amazon to the Appalachian Mountains. “We will fight every threat that comes our way now and in the future,” he said.
To a lesser extent, the demonstration also railed against a possible Louisville-area bypass that would connect I-71 with I-65. Preliminary maps show that areas near Bernheim are being considered.
The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet is studying routes, but the project hasn’t been confirmed or funded.
By comparison, LG&E is moving forward with the 12-mile pipeline, although Bernheim has challenged how state regulators approved the line in 2017 in a complaint now before the Kentucky Public Service Commission.
John P. Malloy, LG&E vice president of gas distribution, said in a statement this week that the company has been a long-time financial supporter of Bernheim. “We treasure its legacy in our region,” he said.
At the same time, the utility has sought to counter Bernheim’s argument that the line poses a serious threat to its land. It has repeatedly pointed out that the public forest isn’t in the pipeline route, and spokeswoman Natasha Collins said the easements LG&E wants affect less than .03 percent of Bernheim’s 16,000 acres.
But that doesn’t reflect broader impacts, such as losing several thousand trees, Mark Wourms, Bernheim’s executive director, told WDRB News while marching. The pipeline is “the wrong direction at the wrong time,” he said.
“We don’t want to die a death of a thousand cuts. And that’s what that is,” he added. “That takes the integrity out of that section of our wildlife corridor and our forest ecosystem.”