Clarification needed to protect landowner property rights

Joe Boone

March 20, 2014

Last March a land agent showed up at my door to inform me that two private companies wanted to install a pipeline for natural gas liquids on my farm. It would originate in Pennsylvania and West Virginia and join with an existing pipeline in Hardinsburg, which would link it to Louisiana. I was shocked and told the man I was not overjoyed with that news. But his response set me back even farther when he stated that they felt their project would have eminent domain power, meaning they could come through my property whether I like it or not.

He only wanted survey permission at that time. I agreed to the survey very reluctantly, thinking there was no way I could fight these multi-million dollar companies without going broke.

I am farmer with a cow-calf operation in central Kentucky. I also have a full-time job off the farm. I have lived and worked on this farm my entire life, which has now been in my family for five generations. To say my land is important to me would be a huge understatement. Now someone is insinuating that they have more say-so on my property than I do. I don’t take that lightly!

That man who showed up at my door last March works for the Williams Company and Boardwalk Pipeline Partners. Their project is better known as the Bluegrass Hazardous Liquids Pipeline. This article is not about the hazards of the pipeline. It is about eminent domain. It should not matter why a landowner chooses not to have a pipeline on their property for a private company whose only purpose is to make a profit and not to provide any direct benefit to Kentucky residents.

My quest for information led me to local meetings where I heard from both pipeline proponents and opponents. I learned that the issue of eminent domain was not as certain as I was led to believe and also that I did indeed have the right to say no. So I rescinded the survey permission I had previously granted and informed them I was not interested in granting an easement for their pipeline.

For several months I did not hear from them and assumed they had honored the public statements they had made that they would find a path around landowners like me who did not want a pipeline on our property.

That all changed in early November. More surveyors showed up and surveyed neighboring properties and the survey stakes lead up to my property lines on opposite sides of my farm, with my land being the missing link to the complete path. A different land agent then stopped by to ask if I would reconsider but I told him I would not. Now, four months later those survey stakes are still in place leading up to my property lines. That greatly concerns me and it should all Kentuckians that a private company could even consider forcing landowners to give up rights to their land.

All of this worry would be unnecessary if Kentucky’s law was clarified so that it was clear that private companies that provide no public benefit are not allowed to condemn the property of Kentuckians.

Most attorneys believe our farms are protected, but that there is some gray area in the law. The pipeline folks insist they do have the power of eminent domain. Rep. John Tilley and others filed House Bill 31. It is not designed to stop the pipeline or to kill jobs, only to give landowners the right to say no. It passed the House Judiciary Committee in February with an 11-1 vote, and now needs attention from Senate and House leaders to make sure HB 31 gets through the process before the session ends.

In the meantime many landowners are adjusting our busy lives and sacrificing as much time as possible trying to explain our situation to legislators and convince them to vote for this much needed legal clarification. We are competing with professional lobbyists that Williams and Boardwalk has paid tens of thousands of dollars to argue that their profitability is more important than our land.

I urge Kentucky residents from all parts of the state to please make one call to the Legislative Message Line at 1-800-372-7181 and leave a message for all members of the House and Senate to please vote FOR House Bill 31 to protect Kentucky landowners from eminent domain used by private companies.

Joe Boone farms in Nelson County.