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Pipeline Protested: Citizens fight natural gas project

Hundreds of residents packed into the Wimberley Community Center Tuesday to gain advice on how to fight a 430-mile underground natural gas pipeline that’s expected to bisect Hays County.

Such was the primary topic during Tuesday’s public meeting hosted by Hays County Pct. 3 Commissioner Lon Shell, who gave property owners information on combating Kinder Morgan’s Permian Highway Pipeline.

The PHP is a proposed natural gas pipeline that’s expected to start in west Texas and end in the Houston area, cutting through most of the Texas Hill Country.

According to county officials, Kinder Morgan is proposing the pipeline as a “highway,” which associates the pipeline as “common carrier status.”

Common Carrier law defines a person or entity’s business of transporting goods. Under common carrier law, Kinder Morgan would have the right of eminent domain.

“If you are a common carrier, you have the right of eminent domain,” said Hays County General Counsel Mark Kennedy. “Many of you, if you’re in the path, you’re not just negotiating at that point. You’re living with it.”

However, Kyle resident and property owner Lucy Johnson, whose land is in the pipeline’s path, said residents can fight.

Seeking legal help, banding with other property owners and speaking with elected representatives are all ways residents can stay vigilant against the company’s efforts.

“This 42-inch pipeline would be one of the largest pipelines in the world, and if leaked, would expose livestock and wildlife to dangerous gases,” Johnson said. “We know, in the worst case scenario, if there is an explosion, experts say that blast can span 1,200 feet from the pipeline.”

Johnson said the pipeline is expected to carry natural gas, but other particles, including fracking liquids, could be included in the transport of natural gas.

Additionally, the pipeline would run through the path of endangered species, including the Golden Cheek Warbler, a species of bird which calls the Hill Country home.

Chuck Lesniak, a retired city of Austin environmental officer, said once the pipeline is in the ground, the company could receive additional permits to move other fossil fuels through the pipeline. Based on his expertise, that permitting process could occur overnight.

An area resident holds a sign in protest of Kinder Morgan’s Permian Highway Pipeline project. (Photo by Exsar Arguello)

“From a risk analysis standpoint, we aught to be looking at this pipe with what’s the nastiest thing that could go into it,” Lesniak said. “There is a lot we don’t know and you have the right to fight.”

Shell said property values might be affected by the pipeline; the specifics of the PHP’s impact are unknown at this time.

Also attending the meeting were water district officials, scientists and local representatives, who also urged the public to ask for help.

Linda Rogers, president of the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District, said the district has concerns over how the pipeline could affect the aquifer in the event of a disaster.

Rogers said Jacobs Well in Wimberley is close to the location of the pipeline. In the event of a spill, the natural gas could prove detrimental to the aquifer and affect the water resource of thousands of Hays County residents.

Speakers called for Kinder Morgan to reroute the pipeline in order to protect Jacobs Well and Blue Hole Regional Park.

Jeff Mundy, an Austin water attorney, said Kinder Morgan is telling its investors it will have the pipeline down by 2020. Mundy, who has experience as an attorney working for major corporations in the past, said it’s common for companies to invest around $50 million in legal fees for such projects.

“The number one goal right now is forcing them to get an environmental impact study,” Mundy said. “At the micro-level, if you’re a property owner, you need to get a lawyer…hire somebody. You need help. This is not a do-it-yourself problem at Home Depot.”

Mundy said if the pipeline crosses septic systems or other lines, the company would responsibility take care of those concerns.

“Document everything,” Mundy said. “No one knows your property better than you. Document objective issues…start making a list right now.”

Written concerns submitted to the county include eminent domain worries, property devaluation, well water contamination, groundwater and surface water quality and pipe leaks.

Shell said he hopes the company will be prepared to address the concerns of the citizens at their meeting.

“I live in Blanco within 300 feet of the proposed pipeline,” said a resident who addressed the crowd. “If this goes through, I would have to move. I am very worried. I can’t sleep within 300 feet of a pipeline knowing I’m in the blast zone.”

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