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Ron Cook and his wife, Kathy, have lived on their St. Francis property since 1976. Both grew up in big cities, but they moved to Marion County because they wanted to raise their children in a rural setting.
“We put money into this farm, and we didn’t get anything out of it except for a way of life,” Cook said. “We’re just stewards of it. It was here before I got here. It will be here after I leave.”
That’s also why Cook, 64, doesn’t want the Bluegrass Pipeline coming through or near his property.
“I would personally prefer that we keep the pipeline out of Kentucky completely, but I don’t think that’s going to happen,” he said.
The Williams and Boardwalk Pipeline Partners are working on the project as a way to transport natural gas liquids (NGLs) from Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia to Louisiana. The plan includes building hundreds of miles of pipeline to connect with an existing pipeline that runs to the Gulf Coast.
Cook said a company representative visited their property seeking permission to survey the land.
“I told ‘em I wasn’t ready to sell a right-of-way. I wasn’t interested,” he said. “It wasn’t too bad of a contact because they just left.”
As he’s learned more about the project and the companies involved, he has become convinced that he was right to turn away the company official.
Their land includes a certified tree farm and provides a home to a wide range of wildlife. Cook works with the Division of Forestry to maintain. He makes daily walks around his property, often gathering fallen limbs.
He also has an agreement with Kentucky Utilities, which has a tower and power lines across his land. Normally, KU uses chemicals to control the grass under the power lines. In order to preserve his trees, Cook cuts that grass himself.
He also points out that he benefits from the electricity that KU brings to the area. He doesn’t believe an NGL pipeline offers any benefit.
Nevertheless, he and Kathy attended the company’s Aug. 8 open house in Elizabethtown seeking more information
“We got the runaround, literally,” Cook said.
When they asked questions, they were often referred from one station to another, he said.
Kathy Cook, 70, said she spoke to a company representative who lives in Lexington. She asked if he had a pipeline near his Kentucky property. He told her he didn’t, but there was a pipeline near his property in Arkansas.
She said she wished she asked if he lived in Lexington because of that pipeline.
Williams and Boardwalk are seeking 50-foot easements along the pipeline route and temporary 100-foot easements during the actual construction. The companies’ information reads that they will restore the contours and topsoil to their original condition after the pipeline is in place.
“They can’t replace a 100-year-old tree,” Cook said.
The company also states it is offering fair market value for the easements it is seeking. That’s not enough, according to Cook
“A lot of us hold the land more valuable than the dollar figure,” he said.
In face of the opposition the project has received in Central Kentucky, the company has also indicated it would consider pursuing eminent domain to complete the project, but only as a last resort.
“It’s really not about money,” Cook said. “Really, no amount of money will dislodge us. Eminent domain should not be used by private companies. Anybody with common sense would say that’s true.”
‘My house is my house’
Dorothee Skeehan, 56, shares many of the Cooks’ concerns. She was home when a company official stopped by her Howardstown Road property in late July.
Her dog, Tula, growled at him, she recalled.
“He smiled like he was announcing the circus was coming to town,” Skeehan said.
When she asked what kind of pipeline he was talking about, the company rep told her it was for natural gas. She said he didn’t say natural gas liquids.
He explained that the plan was to carry their product from Pennsylvania to the Gulf Coast, pointing in the wrong direction as he emphasized each point. Skeehan sent him away, and learned later about a public meeting in Loretto to discuss the project. She started doing research online, and she said she cried when she watched a video of a meeting in Nelson County in which a company official spoke about invoking eminent domain.
“It’s wrong and it’s frightening on so many levels,” Skeehan said.
She and her husband, Charles, 85, have lived in Raywick since 1986. Charles, a former Trappist monk, grew up in Tulsa, Okla. Skeehan is a Quaker who grew up in the suburbs of St. Louis.
She said she always wanted to have a small farm in the country. She was a fan of the television show “The Rifleman” when she was growing up, and the plot of land they found in Raywick reminded her of the show.
“In some ways, I had been searching for this place since I was 15,” she said.
Charles teaches a philosophy class at Elizabethtown community college, and he said coming over the hill to his house is like returning to his own Shangri-La.
Like the Cooks, Skeehan went to the open house seeking information about the project. She said a company representative told her they aren’t putting the project in through cities because it’s too dangerous. She didn’t find that comforting.
“My house, rural though it may be, is still my house. It’s not going to be less dangerous next to my house,” Skeehan said.
She also thinks people should research the projects and the companies involved, and she hopes they will oppose the pipeline as well.
“They won’t want to do this to themselves or to their neighbors,” Skeehan said.
She said one concern is the risk of an explosion like the one in Illinois that reportedly sent flames 300 feet in the air and forced 80 families living within a mile radius to flee their homes. (For more on the explosion, visit WUSA’s website, here: http://goo.gl/kuH2Fd.) That pipeline was carrying ethane and propane, two substances that can be found in NGLs.
Skeehan is also concerned about the possibility of a leak in the pipe, which they may not know about until it’s too late.
Tom Droege, a Williams company spokesman, explained that the pipeline will be monitored 24 hours a day, seven days a week from a central location in Oklahoma. Air patrols will fly over the route once or twice a week and the entire route will be inspected every six months, and the company will use ‘pigging” to inspect the interior of the pipes every two months. (A video about “pigging” is available here: http://goo.gl/shoyXd.)
Skeehan does not find the company’s explanations convincing.
“Who are these people?” she said.
“Robbers,” Charles answered.
“They’re robber barons. They’re energy barons,” she replied.
Like the Cooks, Skeehan believes she and her husband are the caretakers of their land. She is a writer and a painter, and she said she draws inspiration from her property and her community. She hopes to share the source of her inspiration, possibly by creating an artists’ retreat.
Her biggest concern is that the company will find a way to use eminent domain to force the project through. Skeehan also worries that some of her neighbors may be too confident that the law will be on their side if it does come to that.
In her view, the right of people to own their own land runs deep in the “marrow of America.” She recalled that in the second episode of “The Rifleman,” a pair of cowboys burn the McCains’ ranch because a bigger rancher wants to use their land.
The McCains fought back, and Skeehan hopes people in Kentucky will, too.
“This isn’t just about our land and our rights,” she said. “It is about the principle of private property, about being able to leave something to the future as a gift.”