Franklin County opponents of the proposed Bluegrass Pipeline are calling the company’s decision to halt the project a victory — but said the larger war against such pipelines isn’t over yet.
Williams and Boardwalk Pipeline Partners said in a web posting Monday they were not able to assemble a large enough customer base for the proposed pipeline that would have carried natural gas liquids.
The companies said they are no longer seeking to acquire land for the project and offices that housed land acquisition teams have been closed. They suggested, however, that the project could be resurrected at a later date.
“We continue to pursue support for the project, but we are exercising capital discipline and not investing additional capital at this time. In short, Bluegrass Pipeline appears to be a project that’s ahead of its time,” the web posting said.
Local activist Chris Schimmoeller, a vocal opponent to the pipeline, called Monday’s announcement “an incredible victory” for Kentuckians banded together over the buying power of a big energy company.
“Less than a year ago, Kentuckians started organizing against this company and against the Bluegrass Pipeline, and everywhere we turned, they threw money at us,” with advertisements, payments to landowners and lobbying efforts, she said.
“But I think Kentuckians have their priorities in the right place, and we were able to see through their tactics and stand up for our land and the health of our soil and water, and it’s just a huge victory.”
Planners intended to install 500 miles of new pipeline through West Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky. Kentucky’s portion would have traversed about 180 miles through more than a dozen counties to connect with an existing line in Breckinridge County.
But opposition to the proposal was swift and widespread in Kentucky, coming from activists, residents near the planned route and even the Sisters of Loretto, a group of Catholic nuns in Marion County.
Residents were upset over the pipeline backers’ insistence that Bluegrass Pipeline would be able to use eminent domain laws to seize private land for the project.
The companies said in the web posting and an online Q&A that their decision was not based on local opposition or the eminent domain issue.
“Without firm agreements from customers, we could not justify continuing to spend capital on this project,” they said. “If our discussions with customers lead to agreements to ship on the pipeline and it makes economic sense to pursue the project at a later date, we will.”
Opponents of the project have staged rallies at the Capitol and pleaded for the governor to intervene, but a bill that would have blocked the company from using eminent domain failed in the General Assembly this year.
Schimmoeller said pipeline opponents had a strategy meeting planned for Wednesday. The mood may be a bit more celebratory in light of the news, but it will still go on. She said this isn’t the last time a pipeline company will eye Kentucky.
The state sits between prime fracking regions in the northeastern U.S. and processing facilities on the Gulf Coast.
“This has been good training ground, but this is not over,” she said. “I think now that we understand this issue, we’re obliged to safeguard our state from this toxic industry.”
The pipeline was proposed to go through Kevin Hockensmith’s family farm in Woodlake here in Franklin County, but the Hockensmiths turned down an offer of $190,000 for an easement.
Although the pipeline is considered halted, Hockensmith said he isn’t convinced the project is dead.
“My thought is they will try to hold off and get more politicians (to support) eminent domain,” he said. “Who knows the real plans, but they’re not going to give up.”
Penny Greathouse, who owns hundreds of acres in Franklin County, told The State Journal in October that pipeline agents had offered her $350,000 for pipeline easements through her farm.
Monday, Greathouse said she’s happy with the latest announcement.
“That thrills me to death,” she said. “I don’t want the darn thing coming through here anyway.
“I’m excited … I’m just glad, and maybe they just found out that it’s not so easy to rip right through here and take advantage of everybody for their own benefit.”
Both Hockensmith and Greathouse said they don’t see the companies completely giving up after having invested so much already.
“I don’t know,” Greathouse said. “Usually they don’t just totally give up on something especially when they’ve got a lot of money invested.”
“I can’t see them paying for easements and giving up,” Hockensmith said, adding that his attitude won’t change if the project comes up again. “I’m dead set against it. I’ll fight it tooth and nail.”
Tom FitzGerald, the attorney representing Kentuckians United to Restrain Eminent Domain, which filed a lawsuit in December seeking a ruling on whether Bluegrass Pipeline could use eminent domain in Kentucky, said he’s not surprised by Monday’s announcement.
FitzGerald said he believes the decision was based on a number of factors, including a proposed competing natural gas liquids pipeline.
The companies behind both proposed pipelines set time frames to see if there was enough interest in the product, but neither got enough support, FitzGerald said.
The opposition likely was a factor in the companies’ decision, FitzGerald said, even though it’s not stated.
“The Bluegrass Pipeline — never in their wildest dreams did they anticipate this amount of resistance in Kentucky,” he said.
FitzGerald said he agrees that this is likely not the end of the Bluegrass Pipeline.
“We won’t let down our guard,” he said. “We’ll take it at face value, and that’s in the current conditions, they don’t intend to go forward.”
FitzGerald adamantly supports a comprehensive review process for natural gas liquids pipelines, and said he will continue to work toward that goal.
“We’ll be vigilant and monitor the regulatory process.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.