Permian Highway Pipeline outcry builds as residents seek answers

Transparency issues surrounding Kinder Morgan’s Permian Highway Pipeline provided more fuel for opponents fighting to keep the project from going through the Hill Country. 

Those arguments and much more were brought to the forefront in a public meeting held at Hays High March 6. Hays County Pct. 2 Commissioner Mark Jones said adding roadblocks to Kinder Morgan’s path could force the company to seek another route.

“One strategy we’re looking at is to make it as uncomfortable as we can and to make it as expensive as we can to where an alternative route is more attractive than bringing it through here,” Jones said.

The meeting, hosted by Hays County, continued to give landowners insight into how to fight and negotiate with Kinder Morgan as it goes through the eminent domain process for its 430-mile underground natural gas pipeline.

Safety also was an issue addressed during the meeting. Lucy Johnson, whose family’s property could be impacted by the project, cited a recent natural gas pipeline explosion in Missouri that impacted that area. Johnson said the pipeline could have an “irreversible impact” on the landscape and wildlife in the area over time.

Brian Hunt, a hydrogeologist with the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District (BSEACD), said their concern extends to the protection of karst features, or small caves, during the construction process.

Kinder Morgan officials have hired an expert to conduct surveys on karsts, as well as to develop an aquifer protection plan, which will be given to the district when complete. However, BSEACD officials still had questions about the project’s impact. 

Hays County Pct. 1 Commissioner Debbie Ingalsbe worried about residents on the east side of Interstate 35 in the Kyle area who could be impacted by the pipeline in the event of an emergency. Kyle City Manager Scott Sellers said roughly a quarter of the city’s population could fall within the evacuation zone, which is a combined 7,200-foot area on either side of the pipeline.

“This is a highly populated area of our county,” Ingalsbe said. “It would be devastating if we were to have an incident.”

County leaders worried the project could have long-term economic impacts to the region as well.

Mark Kennedy, Hays County legal counsel, said placing a pipeline through land that’s slated for development could have “a chilling effect” on the property in the future. Kennedy said the impact of the pipeline could make Hays County less attractive for companies to move to the area in the future. Kinder Morgan officials have refuted negative property value impact as a result of pipelines.

However, Kennedy said he wanted to see an economic study done outside of the west Texas area.

Kennedy also advocated for the state to change the way it regulates pipelines. State Rep. Erin Zwiener (D-Driftwood) cited several new bills crafted during the legislative session that could improve pipeline regulation. 

Residents and officials alike all had concerns anout the lack of information coming from Kinder Morgan on its natural gas pipeline. Allen Fore, Kinder Morgan vice president of public affairs, was present at the meeting but did not address the crowd.

Several residents stated that Kinder Morgan’s open houses, which they felt didn’t address many of their questions.

Chris, identified as someone who has worked on Kinder Morgan pipelines, said someone “should be up here talking to you and answering questions.”

Kyle city council member Daphne Tenorio said Kinder Morgan “is not doing what they said by negotiating and answering our questions in good faith.”

“We ask that you take these comments and answer our questions,” Tenorio said. “We are here to raise our children so we can continue our livelihoods. Not having our questions answered makes it difficult to plan.”

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