LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Louisville Gas & Electric Co. can condemn key parcels of land in Bullitt County for a proposed natural gas pipeline, a judge ruled Tuesday.
The order by Bullitt Circuit Judge Rodney Burress found that LG&E met its requirements under Kentucky’s eminent domain law, while dismissing landowners' claims of fraud and collusion as irrelevant to the condemnation cases.
Buress noted that some of LG&E's representatives "may have been overzealous" in their dealings with property owners, but he found no evidence that the company didn't negotiate in good faith.
And he ultimately agreed that the line is “necessary to improve natural gas service for residential and commercial customers in Bullitt County by increasing capacity and improving reliability.” The decision affects seven of the eight condemnation cases involving the pipeline plan; a separate lawsuit, against Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest, is pending in Bullitt Circuit Court.
Eric Farris, the attorney for Bullitt County Economic Development Authority, called the ruling a "really significant development for Bullitt County as a whole."
Thomas Clay, an attorney representing some landowners, said Wednesday that he and other lawyers are considering their next steps, which could include appealing to the Kentucky Court of Appeals.
"Some of the tactics that were used to gain approval from some of the land owners in Bullitt County for this pipeline, I think they deserve scrutiny," he said.
LG&E spokeswoman Natasha Collins said in a statement that the private, publicly-regulated utility continues to pursue the remaining permits and other approvals needed to start construction, including permits from Kentucky Division of Water and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
LG&E’s plan to run a 12-mile natural gas pipeline across Bullitt County has run into opposition from some landowners who don’t want a high-pressure line crossing their property. They’ve refused to sell easements for the project, leading to the condemnation lawsuits filed in 2019.
Some of the most vigorous opposition has been from Bernheim, which owns land that the pipeline would cross north of the popular forest and recreation area. It is planning a wildlife corridor there.
Opponents also have raised concerns about a process that kept key details about the route and opportunities for public input hidden until after state utility regulators approved the project.
The $39 million pipeline would run between south of Mount Washington and Interstate 65, south of Shepherdsville, and eventually connect to existing distribution and transmission lines. LG&E has argued that the pipeline is needed to connect to an existing line and allow for a backup supply of gas to customers.
"LG&E had established that if there was an outage in the existing line, they have some 10,000 customers would be impacted," Farris said. "There will be a real decline in growth if we don't see that natural gas pipeline, and it's going to affect the nature of the businesses that will come in."
The Louisville-based utility also predicts the line will serve future industrial users along Ky. 480 and Ky. 245 near I-65.
"There may have been deceptive tactics promises that were made to some of them that weren't kept, things that require further investigation," Clay said.
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