Locals ready to fight 430-mile gas pipeline

As Houston-based company Kinder Morgan moves ahead on a proposed 430-mile underground natural gas pipeline that could bisect Hays County, local landowners worry the project could harbor a negative environmental impact.

Bill Johnson, owner of the historic Halifax and 6F ranches and whose land could be affected by the project, said he opposes the pipeline as it encroaches on land that has been nearly untouched for generations.

“I’m very upset about the idea of them coming to something that’s treasured and sacred as the Hill Country and coming through with a huge 42-inch pipeline,” Johnson said. “I’m horrified by the idea of it.”

The Permian Highway Pipeline (PHP), crafted by Kinder Morgan Texas Pipeline and EagleClad Midstream Ventures, is a $2 billion project designed to transport up to 2 billion cubic feet per day of natural gas through a 430-mile pipeline that stretches from far west Texas to the Houston area.

KMTP is starting the process of reaching out to local elected officials and gathering their input on the project, said Allen Fore, KMTP vice president. At the same time, KMTP’s land agents are also in the introductory phase with affected landowners on whose property they seek to place the pipeline. In October, the Hays Free Press reported KMTP has begun negotiations with approximately 82 Hays County landowners.

KMTP has also started the process of obtaining permits from various state and local entities, including the Texas Railroad Commission, the Texas Historical Commission, Texas Parks and Wildlife and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ).

Fore said the company has dealt with those agencies in the past and they design projects that meet their criteria.

“We never propose a project that could not meet or exceed all of the regulations,” Fore said.

So far, the company is “pleased” with progress and has had “good conversations and helpful conversations” with elected officials, Fore said. The company has so far met with several Hays County Commissioners, as well as with County Judge-elect Ruben Becerra and city of Kyle officials. Fore said there was an “appreciation and interest” among elected officials for early discussion, as well as the ability to pose stakeholder questions.

KTMP also gathered information on prospective developments in the area where they could seek to place the pipeline. Fore said it was “good to know up front” prospective developments, which will be taken into consideration when finalizing a route. No official route has been announced at this time.

Fore said the company will continue to aim for the pipeline to go in service by the fourth quarter 2020. KMTP has built in time for negotiations with landowners. The company is trying to make sure constituents are well represented and treated fairly, Fore said.

“On a project this size, you will see routing adjustments and we will do our very best to accommodate local landowner issues to whatever we might find in a survey analysis that indicates a routing adjustment,” Fore said.

However, Jerry Hendrix, city of Kyle chief of staff, said city officials were a “little surprised” to learn initially about the project from concerned landowners who were going through eminent domain negotiations – and from not the company. Since then, Hendrix said the company has been responsive to questions and requests for meetings.

Fore said KTMP is planning to host public input meetings in San Marcos, Wimberley and Kyle; times and dates for meetings have not been announced at this time.

Kyle officials have concerns about the relationship the pipeline could have with current and future infrastructure. While the city doesn’t have authority to compel KMTP to move the line, the city is aiming to “make sure they are following all of the rules we can” to protect assets and citizens, Hendrix said.

“Our main concern is to protect city resources and make sure the safety of the people of Kyle are accounted for,” Hendrix siad.

Lucy Johnson, longtime Kyle resident and Bill Johnson’s daughter, worried construction of the pipeline could place an undue toll on Hill Country land. In order to construct the pipeline, KMTP requires a 75-foot easement, which could include clearing of trees and other vegetation. Once the project is done, KMTP would retain a 50-foot easement in perpetuity.

Bill Johnson said a portion of the Halifax and 6F ranches could be impacted by the pipeline. The project will affect an existing conservation easement on their property.

Lucy Johnson’s primary concern extends to the PHP impacting the Edwards Aquifer and Trinity Aquifer, which residents and municipalities obtain water from, as well as their recharge zones. Bill Johnson said the project could also impact the natural habitats of the Golden Cheeked Warbler and other native wildlife.

Both Bill and Lucy Johnson, who have retained legal counsel, plan to fight the construction of the pipeline.

“It’s bizarre to me how this company would go through the Hill Country over the most sensitive aquifer in Texas and go over property that is the most expensive,” Lucy Johnson said.

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