FRANKFORT, KY (WAVE) - State lawmakers said Thursday's pipeline explosion could be a tipping point for legislation that would stop a developer from using eminent domain to build a new pipeline in Kentucky.
The explosion happened early Thursday morning in Knifley, a small town in Adair County. People reported seeing flames from miles away after the natural gas line burst.
Lawmakers have already filed bills to prevent developer Williams Co. from using eminent domain to purchase right-of-way for a natural gas liquids pipeline through Kentucky. The measures haven't moved forward, and one of the sponsors said Thursday's explosion might renew interest in the issue.
"It does draw attention to it," said Sen. Jimmy Higdon, R-Lebanon. "If it's not passing through their county, other legislators haven't been real interested in being involved in the legislation or showing support."
Executives at Tulsa, Oklahoma-based Williams have asserted they have the right to use eminent domain if a landowner isn't willing to sell, although it would be employed as a last resort to build the transmission pipeline.
Higdon and Rep. David Floyd, R-Bardstown, said state law doesn't permit using eminent domain for commercial purposes with no public service benefit.
"At issue (are) the private property rights of every citizen in this state," Floyd said. "If it can happen with a private company for a private use in this area, it can happen to them in their area."
The line would cut through portions of Breckenridge, Hardin, LaRue, Nelson and Franklin counties. Williams field workers have already begun purchasing easements from willing sellers, and executives have adjusted the pipeline's path around some religious properties.
Floyd said a bill restricting eminent domain would get a hearing in a House committee Wednesday. Higdon said he is still trying to get a hearing scheduled on his Senate measure.
Rep. Bam Carney, R-Campbellsville, said he supported the eminent domain restrictions. He went to elementary school in Knifley, even displaying a portrait of the school in his Capitol Annex office.
Carney said his aunt's home was damaged in Thursday's explosion, but she wasn't injured.
"For me personally, this hits close to home," he said. "Researchers say (pipelines) are safe, but when you get a 4 a.m. phone call as I did this morning from the community you grew up in, it does make you take a look at those issues again, I assure you."
Sen. Sara Beth Gregory, R-Monticello, was on the phone with Kentucky Emergency Management officials Thursday morning to get updates on the situation in her district.
Gregory said she was undecided on the eminent domain bill, but expected more constituents to care about the issue after the explosion.
"After this situation, I will be hearing from them more," she said. "I think it does raise awareness and does raise concern. After this, I am much more inclined to support (Higdon's) bill."
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