Buffalo Trace expansion threatens public safety

OPINION AND COMMENT

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A Jim Beam bourbon warehouse in Woodford County, Ky., burns down Wednesday, July 3, 2019 after catching fire Tuesday night.

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On Nov. 10, Franklin County Planning and Planning Commissioners will vote on the Buffalo Trace Zoning Code Amendment that exempts Buffalo Trace from building guidelines in the City/County Comprehensive Development Plan and allows them and any other distillery to build bourbon warehouses on any 100 rural acres of residential or agricultural land they may purchase in Franklin County without any restriction or ability for people to oppose it.

The problem with the amendment is that federal and state building/fire codes for bourbon warehouses are MINIMUM requirements and do not address all safety needs as bourbon warehouse construction moves in urban areas. Although local governments may add stricter conditions, if the Buffalo Trace Amendment passes, local jurisdictions will not be able to require any building regulations beyond federal or state building codes.

A lot has changed since the first Kentucky state building codes were written for bourbon warehouses in 2010. Extreme weather events are more common. Warehouses are bigger, contain more alcohol and weigh more. Warehouses are being built closer to urban areas. Current state and federal building and fire codes do not reflect these changes. Fortunately, local governments can add stricter requirements if needed.

For example, a collapsing bourbon warehouse is a major cause of fire and environmental disasters, and according to the University of Kentucky Geological Survey, they should NOT be built on sinkhole-riddled karst land. such as Buffalo Trace’s proposed construction site in Frankfurt. “Structures built over voids (chasms) can experience significant settlement and significant structural damage…causing catastrophic structural failure and endangering the public.” reports the UK Geological Survey.

British geologists strongly recommend that engineering tests be carried out to locate sinkholes before building on karst land. The Buffalo Trace site will support seventeen 15,500-ton warehouses containing 51 million gallons of highly combustible alcohol on environmentally sensitive wetlands directly adjacent to a 132-home housing development. Buffalo Trace did not perform the tests because federal and state regulations did not require them. Fortunately, planning and zoning may require testing. (They haven’t done it yet).

A Buffalo Trace bourbon warehouse is the size of a 7-story football field, weighs 15,500 tons, and contains 3 million gallons of highly combustible alcohol. It’s not a barn, as Buffalo Trace claims; it’s a firebomb waiting for a thunderbolt, a spark from machinery, or a collapsed warehouse to ignite it. The incidence rate of a bourbon-related disaster is once every 3.5 years. It’s not about whether there will be an environmental catastrophe; its a matter of when.

Bourbon warehouse fires are difficult to extinguish and contain. A bourbon warehouse burned for three days in Versailles. The fire jumped 100 feet into the air, melting the fire truck’s plastic headlights and taking 75 firefighters from five counties to contain the blaze. The alcohol spill polluted 85 miles of Glenn’s Creek and the Kentucky River, killing thousands of fish and contaminating drinking water.

If the Buffalo Trace amendment passes, planning and zoning cannot require any conditions and Buffalo Trace need only meet VERY MINIMAL federal and state building/fire code requirements. Buffalo Trace has dealt with warehouse fires before. They know firsthand the dangers to the community, but are obviously unwilling to take responsibility or protective measures beyond the minimum state and federal building codes. I guess Buffalo Trace thinks it’s cheaper to build with MINIMAL code requirements, then pay fines when the environmental disaster occurs, then forget about the cost and risk to your neighbors or the environment.

Margaret Groves is a resident of Franklin County.