Proposed LG&E natural gas pipeline that would cut through Bernheim forest put on hold

By Amy Joseph Landon

Source: The Courier Journal
April 28, 2022
By Lucas Aulbach

A long-controversial proposal for a pipeline that would snake through Bullitt County is being sent back the drawing board after a vital permit for the project was suspended.

After several conservation groups threatened to sue to prevent Louisville Gas & Electric from building the natural gas pipeline, which would cut through some property owned by Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers decided to review how the project could affect three bat species protected by the Endangered Species Act that live in the region.

Construction on the 12-mile pipeline has not yet started, and under the new ruling, will not be able to begin until the two agencies ensure the species — Indiana bats, gray bats and northern long-eared bats — are not put at risk.

“A decision will be made either to reinstate, modify, or revoke the authorization under the (permit) pending completion of formal ESA consultation,” Katie Newton, a spokesperson for the corps’ Louisville District, said in a statement. No timetable for the next steps was given.

The contested project has been in the works for years, sparking outcry from environmental advocates and others in the community since it was first proposed in 2015 as a way to meet growing demand in the county, fueled by both residential and commercial growth.

“Save Bernheim Forest” yard signs are have become a common sight around Louisville among homeowners concerned over the proposed pipeline’s potential impact on the popular 16,000-acre wildlife sanctuary just south of the city.

Bernheim leaders have pushed back against the proposal, noting it would cut directly through areas that are home to the three endangered bat species and urging people to speak out.

More than 100 people with a fake pipeline gathered in front of Louisville Gas and Electric's downtown office on Friday, Sept. 27, 2019, to protest a proposed pipeline through a section of Bernheim forest.

Others in the area have aired their concerns as well, with some protesters marching to LG&E’s headquarters with a fake pipeline in 2019.

In an email Thursday morning, Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest Executive Director Mark Wourms said the upcoming review is a needed move.

“Bernheim always favors periodic review and robust enforcement of environmental regulations,” Wourms said. “We hope this review will help protect endangered bat species and Bernheim, in Bullitt County, and across the nation.”

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The new motion is a reversal of a previous ruling from the corps and the Fish and Wildlife Service that had allowed the proposal to move forward.

In February, the Kentucky Resources Council and the Center for Biological Diversity, a national advocacy group, challenged that ruling and threatened to file a lawsuit over its findings, claiming it had incorrectly found that no caves or sinkholes that serve as habitats for the three bat species existed in the project area.

Bernheim Executive Director Dr. Mark Wourms stands in a field near the proposed site for LG&E's pipeline, Tuesday, July 9, 2019 in Clermont, Ky. Wourms says Bernheim plans to fight the pipeline project which would affect an area they have vowed to conserve.

“We applaud the Service for recognizing the need to re-evaluate the pipeline’s impacts to endangered bat populations,” Ashley Wilmes, director of the Kentucky Resources Council, said in a release. “LG&E has repeatedly failed to address the full environmental impacts of this pipeline project — from bats to water quality to the safety of local residents.”

In previous statements, LG&E had said only .03% of Bernheim would be impacted by the pipeline, with a route intentionally chosen to minimize its length, and said the project is needed to support Bullitt County’s growing population — “new and expanded natural gas service can’t happen without it.”

Company spokeswoman Natasha Collins said LG&E planned to pay close attention to the upcoming reevaluation.

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Cool water streams in the Cedar Grove Wildlife Corridor where LG&E's plans to build a new pipeline. July 9, 2019

“As with every project, we will continue to work closely with permitting agencies and meet all requirements necessary,” Collins said in an email. “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.”

The pipeline, 12 inches in diameter, would stretch a dozen miles through Bullitt County if eventually approved, ending near Interstate 65.

The project was approved by the Kentucky Public Service Commission in 2017 and was at that time expected to be completed by 2019. Delays, the company said in a 2019 Courier Journal opinion piece, “would create additional costs for other customers, and impact a greater number of landowners,” or could cause LG&E to “simply forgo further service expansion into Bullitt County.”

Lucas Aulbach can be reached at, 502-582-4649 or on Twitter @LucasAulbach.

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