The builders of the Bayou Bridge Pipeline don't have to turn company records over to environmental groups trying to stop the project from going forward, a Baton Rouge judge ruled Thursday morning.

The pipeline, which recently began construction activities, is scheduled to be operational by the end of the year, company officials said afterward. It is proposed to carry crude oil between Lake Charles and St. James Parish. Supporters say it is a safe and necessary infrastructure project that will bolster Louisiana’s energy sector; detractors fear spills that could contaminate drinking water and fisheries.


Environmental groups brought Bayou Bridge LLC to court, arguing that when the company sought to expropriate property under eminent domain to install the pipeline, it opened itself up to the kind of public scrutiny placed on public agencies.

Nineteenth Judicial District Judge Michael Caldwell sided with the Bayou Bridge’s lawyer, concluding that while the pipeline was permitted to expropriate land as a common carrier of oil products, it was not taking on a function of the state government. As a private company, it was not created by the legislature, building state-owned infrastructure or acting on behalf of the public and therefore was not subject to records laws, he determined.

Pipeline opponents technically have 15 days to amend their petition, but Caldwell told them he saw no argument that could change his mind

Loyola Law School attorney Bill Quigley said in an interview that Bayou Bridge opponents wanted company records in part to make sure that property owners along the route weren’t harassed or intimidated into signing easements so the pipeline could be installed on their land.

Company officials “unequivocally deny” that property owners were coerced into signing agreements, said Vicki Granado, a spokeswoman for Energy Transfer Partners, the majority shareholder of Bayou Bridge LLC.

Approximately 98 percent of land owners were able to reach a deal with the company. The few remaining cases only wound up in court for eminent domain proceedings because there was no clear title holder due to inheritance issues, and the court had to step in to clarify the matter, she said.

The company doesn’t disclose individual agreements, but Granado said Bayou Bridge has paid more than $41 million for easements and more than $30 million for crop loss on affected land.

Before announcing his decision, Caldwell reflected on the ongoing debate over the pipeline.

“I know this is a hot topic — this pipeline that’s crossing the Atchafalaya Basin and other areas of the state,” he said.

However, the judge emphasized that he was asked to rule only on whether the company was subject to public records laws, not whether it was correct for regulators to issue permits to allow Bayou Bridge’s construction or whether the project as a whole is good or bad.

Loyola and the non-profit Center for Constitutional Rights represented The Atchafalaya Basinkeeper, the Louisiana Bucket Brigade and 350 New Orleans in the public records suit. Tulane’s environmental law clinic and the non-profit Earthjustice are representing other residents and environmental groups in other pending suits against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources, which pipeline opponents argue were overly lax in their permitting of the project.


Follow Steve Hardy on Twitter, @SteveRHardy.