Two Roman Catholic communities, which collectively own more than 3,000 acres in Central Kentucky, are refusing to permit access to their historic properties for a proposed underground pipeline that would transport flammable, pressurized natural-gas liquids across the state.
The Abbey of Gethsemani in Nelson County, Ky. (Peter Smith, The Courier-Journal), December 5, 2008
The Sisters of Loretto in Marion County and the Abbey of Gethsemani in Nelson County have denied representatives of the pipeline developers permission to survey their property and said they won’t consent to participating in the project.
The pipeline is being proposed by a partnership of the Tulsa-based Williams Co., an energy-infrastructure company, and Boardwalk Pipeline Partners, which oversees a network of natural-gas-related pipelines and operations.
The partnership hasn’t determined the final route yet, but it maintains it has the right to obtain easements on properties through eminent domain under Kentucky law, even if the owners don’t want to participate.
Loretto and Gethsemani trace their roots to the 1800s and are landmarks in the Bardstown-area region dubbed the “Holy Land” because of its strong Catholic heritage. The sites draw visitors from Louisville and beyond for spiritual retreats.
“We’ve been on this property since 1824,” said Sister Maria Visse, service coordinator for the Sisters of Loretto, whose 780-acre property includes its motherhouse, retreat centers and a farm. Close to 100 nuns and co-members (lay people affiliated with the order) live on the site.
“We feel entrusted with this,” Visse said. “It’s a gift. it’s not a commodity.”
Pipeline representatives have been requesting permission to survey properties along the proposed route of the pipeline, part of a network that would transmit by-products of natural-gas drilling from Pennsylvania and surrounding states.
Williams Co. spokesman Tom Droege declined to comment on its dealings with specific landowners but said several property holders had granted access for surveys.
“Survey work helps identify the best route for the pipeline by minimizing impact to the landowner and the environment while trying to minimize the length of the pipeline,” he said. “... With each landowner we approach, we pledge to be a respectful guest on their land and ensure they are well informed about what activities are taking place.”
The company next week plans to hold a series of open houses in counties along the proposed route, Droege said.
He said acquisition of easements — in which the partnership would buy the right to install and maintain the pipeline while the owners would retain title and other rights — will come later. The company estimates the easements would be about 50 feet wide.
In a map on their website, pipeline representatives have identified 18 Kentucky counties where the pipeline might be constructed, stretching from Northern Kentucky through the Bluegrass and counties south of Louisville to Breckinridge County. There it would connect with an existing pipeline to the Gulf Coast, where the liquids would be processed into plastic and other products.
Although Marion County is not among the 18 counties, Droege confirmed that the company is considering a route through there as well.
Project representatives say they will take extensive measures to keep the pipeline safe, from its manufacture and installation to its operation.
Visse said she refused on the spot when a pipeline representative asked permission a few weeks ago to survey the Loretto land.
“This is just short-term money that has very dangerous potential long-term consequences,” Visse said.
She said she fears the impact of water pollution in the porous limestone geography of the region.
Brother Aaron Schulte of the Abbey of Gethsemani confirmed the monastery has refused to participate in the pipeline. He declined an interview request.
The Trappist abbey, with dozens of monks, has about 2,500 acres, which include the monastery, guest house and extensive woodlands.
Sister Claire McGowan, a Dominican who is director of the New Pioneers for a Sustainable Future in Springfield, said the project “would risk much of what makes Central Kentucky dear to us: the beauty of our landscape, the abundance of good water, the health of our air, the peaceful quietness of our rural areas, and the general sense of security from unexpected disasters.”
McGowan is a member of the Dominican Sisters of Peace community at St. Catharine in Washington County, just south of the proposed pipeline route.