Saturday, March 30, 2002

Way smoothed for car plant

Farmland panel is dead duck

By Charles Wolfe
The Associated Press

        FRANKFORT — An obscure farmland advisory committee that Gov. Paul Patton feared might complicate negotiations with Hyundai Motor Co. would be abolished under legislation the Kentucky House passed Friday.

        Kentucky is competing with Alabama to get the automaker's U.S. assembly plant. Kentucky's proposed site for the $1 billion project is 1,600 acres in Hardin County, and state officials are pursuing options to buy the site's various parcels.

        At issue is the Interagency Farmland Advisory Committee, which the General Assembly created in 1984 to advise governors on state activities that would use up 50 or more acres of farmland.

        The committee last met in 1989 but last fall became the subject of a lawsuit by the Sierra Club over a different project — a proposed airport and industrial park outside Bowling Green.

        The Sierra Club claimed that Mr. Patton broke the law by not convening the advisory committee to review the project. Mr. Patton responded by abolishing the committee through an executive order. The legislation passed Friday confirmed that order. The Senate passed it on Tuesday.

        Crit Luallen, secretary of Mr. Patton's Executive Cabinet, said the nearly forgotten committee “had the potential of becoming a complicating legal factor” that Alabama could use against Kentucky.

        “We're literally in the final days of negotiation,” Mr. Luallen said. “Both states are watching each other very closely. Hyundai is watching both states very closely. ... Alabama would love to generate that kind of controversy.”

        House Majority Whip Joe Barrows tried to persuade the House to defeat the bill confirming Mr. Patton's order. Mr. Barrows, who like Mr. Patton is a Democrat, argued that a governor has no right to abolish by executive order what the General Assembly has created by statute.

        Mr. Barrows also said it was “a stretch, to say the least” to claim the Hyundai deal depended on it, because the committee has no veto authority.

        But Mr. Barrows was drowned out by boosters of the Hyundai project, especially those from counties around Hardin County, who suddenly see spinoff benefits and the prospect of hundreds of well-paying jobs.

        “This is once in a lifetime for us, probably,” said Rep. Dottie Sims of Horse Cave in Hart County, on Hardin County's southern border. “In my area, we need it desperately.”

        In the end, the House concurred in the Senate's action and passed the bill 90-2.


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- Way smoothed for car plant