A green darner dragonfly buzzes over the waters emanating from the base of the knobs in the Cedar Grove wildlife corridor.
Above the spring, a millipede trudges over a mossy log teeming with mushrooms. A few feet away, in the loamy soil of the hillside, Bernheim Arboretum’s Conservation Director Andrew Berry points to the spot where they found a rare cave snail.
Then he dips his fingers into the creek.
“This water is coming out of an aquifer. You can feel it and feel how cold it is,” Berry said.
The spring flows into Cedar Creek, which crosses the electric transmission lines where Louisville Gas and Electric plans to run a new natural gas pipeline three-quarters of a mile through Bernheim’s property.
The proposed route is designed to fuel economic development in the area, but construction will impact dozens of stream crossings, wetlands and other habitats for rare, endangered and threatened species.
The 12-inch, underground pipeline will serve communities in Shepherdsville, Mount Washington, Lebanon Junction and Clermont that are running out of capacity on their existing natural gas line.
“Creating a secondary path would enhance that reliability, but additionally it would be able to enhance capacity so we can continue to serve and support that area as it grows,” said Louisville Gas and Electric Spokeswoman Natasha Collins.
The pipeline’s path through Cedar Grove wildlife corridor has setup a showdown between LG&E and Bernheim.
“Legally, Bernheim cannot grant an easement for the pipeline,” Berry said. “Essentially, that is a deed that is recorded that says that Bernheim won’t do anything to destroy the natural features of the property…and specifically says that we won’t grant easements for things like natural gas pipelines.”
Bernheim bought the 494-acre Cedar Grove property back in 2018 as part of plan to establish a wildlife corridor that connects important habitats including the Pine Creek Barrens Nature Preserve, the Apple Valley Glades and the Salt River, one of the main riparian corridors in West Central Kentucky.
The path of the pipeline will cut through at least nine different outcroppings of Glade Cress, a federally threatened species that grows nowhere else in the world, according to an environmental survey.
Construction will also clear forest, impact streams and wetlands and disrupt habitat for rare and endangered wildlife including the Indiana and northern long-eared bats and two species of snails.
That’s not to mention the other fauna, including deer, bobcat, coyotes, 24 species of snakes and 229 species of birds that make their homes in and around Bernheim.
Berry is also concerned construction could affect the underground aquifer that supplies springs in the area. Because of the nature of karst terrain, what happens to one water resource could affect others.
For Berry, there’s also a larger context here. The preservation of this land is part of the protection of the planet against the encroaching threats of species loss, climate change and environmental degradation, he said.
“And now we’re at a point where we realized that this place is incredibly important, in terms of Central Kentucky, but also in terms of the world,” Berry said.
Economic Development in Bullitt County
Northern Bullitt County is the next frontier of economic development as Louisville expands, said John Snider with the Bullitt County Economic Development Authority. It’s close to the airport, housing is affordable and the education system is stable, he said.
But in 2016, LG&E told the community they were running out of natural gas capacity to supply new developments. In order to grow, they need more natural gas.
Snider projects the local population to grow by 15,000 people in the next four or five years. With that, Snider expects to see growth in industrial and commercial centers as auto parts manufacturing and logistics companies become increasingly interested in the area, he said.
“Well we’re getting a lot more places to eat, hotels and also industrial, we are growing at about 1.2 million square feet per year,” Snider said.
Collins with LG&E said it’s also been in talks with at least one large existing customer, though the utility won’t say who.
“We don’t disclose customer specific information,” she said.
LG&E first received approval for the pipeline from utility regulators in 2017 as part of a rate case, although the actual path of the pipeline wasn’t made public until earlier this year.
The utility has already purchased about 85 percent of the easements necessary for construction, though a few landowners continue to hold out, including Bernheim, Collins said.
LG&E still needs to secure permits from other state and local authorities including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Louisville Regulatory Division Chief Mike Ricketts said the Corps’ responsibility for this permit review is protecting streams, wetlands and wildlife habitats under the Clean Water Act.
In this case, that means the Corps will review and verify an environmental study developed by a third-party contractor hired by LG&E.
But Berry, the conservation director at Bernheim, said that’s not enough. He would like to see a full cultural and environmental survey so that everyone has a complete picture of the impacts.
“We don’t think that’s too much to ask for given that we’re going to be cutting straight across Bernheim forest and a number of sensitive habitats that we have identified,” Berry said.