Loretto and the Pipeline: Organizing Resistance
Last February Kentucky residents began to hear about plans to run a gas pipeline from Pennsylvania and Ohio through Kentucky down to the Gulf. The pipeline got a name, The Bluegrass Pipeline. It would carry what used to be waste products from natural gas fracking but now were seen as by-products to be sold and shipped to off-shore manufacturers. Maps were hard to come by, but in March Marion County, where the Loretto Motherhouse is located, did not seem to be on the path.
But by summer, Marion County was at risk. Concerned for the wellbeing of the Motherhouse grounds and for the safety of all people and land in the area, Loretto members took steps to educate neighbors, landowners and leaders in the county about the potential risks of the pipeline. [Read more about the issue here.]
Three Loretto sisters, Kathleen Vonderhaar, Kay Carlew and Kathy Wright, and Barbara Hagan who works at the Motherhouse and is a co-member-in-process attended the Loretto City Council regular meeting on July 16. The Loretto City Council heard their appeal and agreed to host a community forum for interested landowners on July 29th.
The Loretto Motherhouse community got to work educating neighbors about the pipeline and inviting them to attend the forum. They tabled at a local church picnic passing out informative fliers. Several went from door-to-door to talk to neighbors about the pipeline. Announcements were made at as many churches as possible. It was during this organizing effort that a man arrived at the Motherhouse asking to survey the land, adding urgency to the community’s work.The meeting was set to start at 6:30 PM. People kept coming and they kept putting up more chairs. Loretto co-member and Motherhouse resident Peg Jacobs counted 125 – and she may have missed some of the late-comers. Loretto sister Donna Mattingly got 99 people to sign in. There was a petition at the sign-in table calling on the governor to limit eminent domain. Sisters Ceciliana Skees and Betty Obal carried the petition around to those who had not signed in. Loretto sisters Alicia Ramirez, Marie Ego, Kathleen Vonderhaar and Mary Swain were greeters.
Cedars of Peace Retreat Center Coordinator Susan Classen opened the panel, providing an overview of the issue in general; then local landowner Donna Essex described the Williams Company pursuit of land rights. Motherhouse Coordinator Maria Visse told the crowd that the Motherhouse had said “no” to the surveyors. Loretto Community Treasurer Kathy Wright and Loretto Motherhouse employee Barbara Hagan described the risks of leaks and fires, the dangers of the natural gas liquids that would be sent through the pipeline and the track record of the Williams Company.
A city councilman chaired the meeting, holding everyone in check at times when they got feisty. Marion County’s state legislator Jimmy Higdon stated that he was with the people and that his job was to convince the governor to put eminent domain on the special legislative agenda this coming week. He said it looks like too small of a problem to the governor, only affecting five counties.
An environmental lawyer explained that methane transmission has strict rules, but there are no standards for propane, butane and the other effluvients that will run through the pipeline. He said he is willing to be of help to the people. The company hopes to have a route by the end of September, begin digging in 2014, have pipeline in 2014.
This meeting was in contrast to those held in Frankfort and Elizabethtown which were hosted by the Williams Company. There, instead of a town hall meeting, tables were set up and people were instructed to ask their questions at those small tables. This effectively thwarted an open discussion of the pipeline and its risks. Seeking a way to make a statement to the group, the Loretto delegation to Elizabethtown on August 8 sang “Amazing Grace” and used the “mike check” system perfected by Occupy Wall Street to speak their message.
The Loretto delegation seen singing on the video at Elizabethtown includes Kay Carlew, Alicia Ramirez, Marie Lourdes Steckler, Donna Mattingly, Susan Classen, Maria Visse, Pauline Albin, Sara Leggett, Jean Johnson, Peg Jacobs, PJ Manion, Claudette LaPorto, Bea Klebba, and Betty Kelty. At least one unknown woman from the community joined the group.