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Endangered bats delay Bullitt County pipeline

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Gary Peoples
/
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Federal officials have suspended a key permit for a Bullitt County gas pipeline to look for critical habitat for bats protected under the Endangered Species Act.

Indiana bats, gray bats and northern long-eared bats roost in caves hidden among Kentucky’s limestone karst terrain. They feed on mosquitoes and other pests and play an important role in Kentucky’s ecosystem, but diseases like white-nose syndrome and habitat loss have imperiled the fluttering, nocturnal mammals.

Environmental groups including the Center for Biological Diversity gave notice of their intention to sue the federal government in February for, among other things, failing to complete a cave survey along the proposed pipeline path, even though it’s critical habitat for the threatened bats.

“We are really encouraged that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is going back to the drawing board to ensure they don’t jeopardize these endangered bats,” said Perrin de Jong, staff attorney. “Kentucky’s endangered bats can’t wait any longer for protection from habitat destruction.”

Louisville Gas and Electric and Kentucky Utilities has, for years, been laying plans to build a 12-mile-long natural gas pipeline in northern Bullitt County to serve the makers of Jim Beam bourbon and communities including Shepherdsville, Mount Washington, Lebanon Junction and Clermont.

LG&E spokesperson Natasha Collins said in a statement the utility remains committed to completing the project to meet the needs of ratepayers.

“As with every project, we will continue to work closely with permitting agencies and meet all requirements necessary,” Collins said.

The pipeline would also cut through conservation lands, remove nearly 40 acres of forest, cross major waterways and impact habitat for more than a half-dozen threatened or endangered species. Indiana bats and gray bats are currently listed as endangered. Northern long-eared bats are currently threatened, though in March the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed the species be reclassified as endangered.

The Endangered Species Act requires federal authorities to investigate all of the potential impacts to listed wildlife ahead of issuing a permit.

LG&E had already secured the major permits and most of the land necessary for development, but that changed in the last few weeks. After reviewing the materials sent by environmental groups, officials from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said they would reinitiate a search for critical habitat under the Endangered Species Act.

Army Corps Louisville District spokesperson Katelyn Newton confirmed to WFPL News the agency suspended LG&E’s permit on April 20. Following the review, officials will decide to reinstate, modify or revoke the permit.

The Kentucky Resources Council was the second group to sign onto the February notice to federal officials. Director Ashley Wilmes said LG&E has repeatedly failed to address the true extent of the environmental impacts of the proposed pipeline.

“I think it shows that other features, other habitat, [and] topography was ignored by LG&E in planning this project, too much has been skirted under the rug,” Wilmes said.