Judge delays ruling on pipeline lawsuit

Approximately two weeks is what a Travis County District Judge plans to take before possibly deciding the fate of litigation against Kinder Morgan and the Texas Railroad Commission (TRC).

Such was the path taken by Travis County District Judge Lora Livingston Wednesday after two full days of testimony from both sides of a contentious lawsuit. That litigation, filed by multiple parties including Kyle and Hays County, seeks more oversight on the pipeline routing process, but also aims to halt the land acquisition process for Kinder Morgan’s Permian Highway Pipeline (PHP), a proposed 420-mile underground natural gas pipeline that could cut through the Hill Country.

Hearings on the suit took place May 28-29 in the 261st District Court in Austin. Those in attendance were representatives and employees of Kinder Morgan, as well as the TRC, which oversees the oil and gas industries in Texas. Kinder Morgan and the TRC are defendants in the case.

On the other side sat city leaders and county representatives who are fighting the PHP, as well as property owners who said they’ve owned their properties for generations and have no intentions of moving. Kyle, Hays County and several property owners are plaintiffs.

Property owners testified against eminent domain, citing their fears for the environment and for their safety. Eminent domain is where an entity purchases or compensates a property owner of their private land for public use.

“There’s no oversight,” said plaintiff attorney Renea Hicks. “Who can stop them from enforcing eminent domain, breaking rules and shutting off the pipeline.”

Hicks said the TRC does not enforce enough oversight to promise landowners that the land taken from them by Kinder Morgan wouldn’t be wasted by the pipeline should it be found faulty, or running improperly. Hicks argued that the TRC only has standards for already-in-use lines and won’t impact Kinder Morgan’s pipeline until the damage has already been done.

City leaders testified that the PHP would pose irreparable damage to their economic development plans.

Kyle Mayor Travis Mitchell testified May 28 his concerns for Kyle residents who would lose their long-owned land as a result of the PHP.

Mitchell said the Kyle has been working on development of Waterridge, a subdivision within the 6 Creeks Public Improvement District (PID) on Old Stagecoach Road in Kyle. That subdivision is in an area where Kinder Morgan plans to route the PHP.

The development could earn the city hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax revenue in the coming years, but Mitchell worried the PHP could cause a negative impact.

However, Kinder Morgan and the TRC said they have planned the pipeline by the book. Kinder Morgan and TRC officials felt imposing eminent domain is the only option left to move the much-needed underground natural gas pipeline from far west Texas to the Houston area.

The pipeline will cost $2 billion and has been planned by Kinder Morgan, the TRC and several consultants whom testified on the project’s behalf.

Livingston said she is concerned for the lack of regulation over the PHP.

“It seems as if Kinder Morgan and developers in Kyle have been working in parallel on using the same areas of land,” Livingston said. “What do you tell these two entities who have been planning to use the same land at nearly the same time?”

Should Livingston rule in the plaintiffs’ favor, she will likely grant a temporary injunction on Kinder Morgan’s claim for eminent domain.

A temporary injunction is a ruling that would prevent Kinder Morgan from proceeding with their claims of eminent domain until the case can be heard again with more research and possibly more evidence.

Kinder Morgan officials plan to have the PHP functional by late 2020.

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