Judge: Louisiana Records Law Doesn't Apply To Pipeline Plan

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana's public records law doesn't apply to a private, for-profit company building a 162-mile-long (261-kilometer) crude oil pipeline in the state, a judge said Thursday in rejecting a bid by environmental groups for access to company records.

State District Court Judge Michael Caldwell said he sees no basis for compelling Bayou Bridge Pipeline LLC to turn over pipeline project records to the groups that sued the company last week. But he gave the groups' attorneys 15 days to amend their public records lawsuit against Bayou Bridge before he would formally dismiss it.

The groups claimed Bayou Bridge is subject to the Louisiana Public Records Act because the company is acting as an "instrumentality of the state" by taking or expropriating more than 400 parcels of private property for the project.

Company lawyer James Percy said Bayou Bridge is a "purely private corporation."

"No public funds are at issue here. The state is not paying for this," he said.

The judge sided with the company, saying the state may benefit from the pipeline but certainly won't be the sole beneficiary of the project.

"I don't think there is any way they could fit under the statute," Caldwell said during a hearing.

William Quigley, a lawyer for the environmental groups, said they planned to appeal the judge's decision and were unlikely to amend their suit.

The groups, including Atchafalaya Basinkeeper and the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, sued Bayou Bridge last week for access to a host of corporate records about the project, including Bayou Bridge's communications with government agencies. Their Dec. 6 public records request also sought records related to the private property it has acquired.

"If a big corporation is coming into Louisiana and forcing people to give up their property, we think they have an obligation to the public to tell them what's going on," Quigley said after the hearing.

A separate lawsuit seeking to block construction of the pipeline is pending in federal court. Environmental groups sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Jan. 11, claiming it violated the Clean Water Act and other environmental laws when it approved a permit for the project in December.

Bayou Bridge is a joint venture of Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners and Phillips 66 Partners LP. They plan to build the 24-inch-wide (60-centimeter-wide) pipeline from Lake Charles to St. James Parish, which is about 60 miles (95 kilometers) west of New Orleans.

"Construction activities" for the project began earlier this month, Energy Transfer spokeswoman Alexis Daniel said in an email Thursday. She wouldn't say where construction began or specify the nature of the work.

"Construction takes place in what we call 'spreads' with multiple spreads under construction simultaneously across the entire route," Daniel wrote.

The pipeline is designed to have a maximum capacity of 480,000 barrels, or roughly 20 million gallons (75 million liters), of crude per day. The pipeline would traverse hundreds of streams, rivers, lakes, wetlands, and bayous in south Louisiana, including the ecologically fragile Atchafalaya (uh-CHAF-uh-LIE-uh) Basin river swamp, according to environmental groups.

-By Michael Kunzelman, Associated Press

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