By Marcus Green
April 27, 2022
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has suspended a permit for a proposed natural gas pipeline in Bullitt County while federal officials conduct a new evaluation of possible impacts to endangered species.
The review under the Endangered Species Act comes at the request of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Kentucky ecological services field office, which was prompted by two conservation groups that threatened a lawsuit earlier this year.
Those groups — the Kentucky Resources Council and the Center for Biological Diversity — claim the federal agencies failed to protect three bat species whose underground habitat is imperiled by the pipeline route.
The permit, known as Nationwide Permit 12, governs the construction of oil and gas pipelines near waterways such as lakes, rivers and streams. The Corps of Engineers approved the permit last year.
“As with every project, we will continue to work closely with permitting agencies and meet all requirements necessary,” Natasha Collins, an LG&E spokeswoman, said in a statement. “LG&E remains committed to completing this important infrastructure project to ensure reliability of service and to meet the needs of the communities we serve.”
There is no timeline for the new consultation, since additional information must be gathered, Fish and Wildlife Service spokeswoman Lanier Clegg said in an email.
In notifying the two agencies of its plan to sue, the conservation groups argued that the Fish and Wildlife Service erred in concluding that there is no suitable cave habitat for the Indiana bat, northern long-eared bat and gray bat along the proposed 12-mile pipeline route.
The groups contend that the Corps of Engineers did not conduct cave surveys, while the Fish and Wildlife Service ignored the “best available biological information” about cave habitat.
Perrin de Jong, a staff attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, said it’s not common for federal agencies to perform a second look.
“That’s very exciting,” he said. “Because it just shows that they’re taking a step back, and they’re going to take a fresh look at this situation and do their work over again and do it properly this time.”
LG&E proposed the Bullitt County pipeline as part of a rate case at the Kentucky Public Service Commission in November 2016. Regulators signed off the following year.
The $74 million pipeline would run between south of Mount Washington and Interstate 65, south of Shepherdsville, eventually connecting to existing distribution and transmission lines. The Louisville-based utility says the new line would allow for a backup supply of gas to customers and supply future industrial users along Ky. 480 and Ky. 245 near I-65.
The proposal also has raised questions about the role bourbon maker Jim Beam played in the pipeline’s route, and just how much gas it will receive from a new line.
The project has faced opposition from landowners who object to a high-pressure line crossing their property. Some refused to sell easements for the project; some lawsuits LG&E began filing under Kentucky eminent domain law in 2019 still haven’t been resolved.
Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest also has fought the pipeline, which would cross conservation land it owns north of the publicly-accessible forest and recreation area.
John Cox, an attorney who represents landowners in the condemnation suits, said the Corps of Engineers’ decision to rescind its permit for the pipeline could affect those cases.
“If they can’t get a permit, for the project, they certainly — you wouldn’t think — would have a right to condemn property for it,” he said.
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