Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Judge: "Bluegrass cannot invoke the sovereign power of eminent domain to threaten or intimidate"

The pipeline company will appeal, of course, and corrupt state officials still have many ways to smooth the pipeline's path, but for the moment, individual rights trump corporate demands.

Jim Warren and Karla Ward at the Herald:

Bluegrass Pipeline Co. cannot use eminent domain to take private property for construction of a natural gas liquids pipeline through Kentucky, a Franklin Circuit judge ruled Tuesday.

Judge Phillip Shepherd held that the power of eminent domain is "an essential attribute of a sovereign government" that cannot be delegated to a private company such as Bluegrass Pipeline "without a clear legislative mandate that such a delegation is in the public interest."

"There has been no such clear and explicit delegation of this power to Bluegrass for its proposed ... pipeline," Shepherd wrote.

The ruling was a victory for Kentuckians United to Restrain Eminent Domain, or KURE, a citizens group that asked the court last year to clarify whether Bluegrass Pipeline had the power to use eminent domain.

Bluegrass Pipeline developers want to build a line to carry natural gas liquids across 13 Kentucky counties, but many citizens have opposed the project, saying it poses environmental and safety concerns. The flammable liquids are byproducts from natural gas refining processes that are used to make consumer products such as plastics and carpet.

Tom Droege, spokesman for the Bluegrass Pipeline project, said in a statement Tuesday afternoon that pipeline developers "disagree" with Shepherd's opinion and will "immediately appeal the decision."

The company has not attempted to use eminent domain to condemn property for the pipeline but has argued that it has the right to do so under Kentucky law.

Shepherd, however, rejected that claim.

"Bluegrass remains free to build its pipeline by acquiring easements from willing property owners," he wrote. "However, Bluegrass cannot invoke the sovereign power of eminent domain to threaten or intimidate, or even suggest to landowners who have no desire to sell, that Bluegrass has the right to take their property without their consent."

Shepherd added that "landowners who do not wish to sell, but who may be unable to finance a legal challenge, are entitled to know that the law does not support Bluegrass's assertion of the power of eminent domain."
Like the vote in the state house to restrict eminent domain, this decision is as pure a grassroots victory as you'll find today.   KURE was formed by landowners in Franklin County and elsewhere in the path of the proposed pipeline as well as neighboring residents and concerned citizens. KURE members and the broader opposition to the pipeline grew from an authentic grassroots movement in which so many Kentuckians have worked together to oppose the pipeline - without billionaire backing or celebrity spokespeople or top-down leadership.

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