Radioactive camera box swept down river during weekend flooding

A radioactive camera box swept away in a flash flood along the Pedernales River in Gillespie County over the weekend has been safely recovered.

The lead box, which contained a camera and a “mobile darkroom,” is owned by Toronto-based Shawcor, a pipeline inspection company that is a contractor for Kinder Morgan, the company currently building the Permian Highway Pipeline (PHP) across Central Texas.

According to Paul Pierroz, Shawcar senior vice president for corporate and investor relations, the box “released” from a company pickup during the flash flood. Two employees were rescued from floodwaters by Gillespie County Fire Department staff, Pierroz said. He wasn’t clear how the pickup went into the river, saying only that the work crew “got caught up in some deep water,” after which the “vehicle became overcome with water.”

Flash floods are so common in the Texas Hill Country that the area has been nicknamed “Flash Flood Alley.” 

Pierroz said the crew was aware of potentially hazardous weather. “They had actually paused their trip hoping the rain would subside. Unfortunately they got caught up in a flash flood.”

The force of the water swept the pickup truck 10 miles downstream. Pierroz said the box was found undamaged Sunday afternoon just east of North River Road near Stonewall. “The camera was whole and contained in its protective steel overpack box with no release of radiation.” He told the Hays Free Press on Sunday that the box’s content is not water soluble so would not be released in water.

On Saturday, the Department of State Health Services issued a public advisory about the box, accompanied by photos, telling anyone who found it to not open it but to contact authorities instead. 

This is just the last in a string of mishaps since Kinder Morgan began laying pipe for its 430-mile, 42” natural gas pipeline stretching from the oil fields of West Texas to near Houston, where much of it will be exported.

The project has been opposed by cities and counties as well as individuals and group representing both environmental and private property rights. Because it is considered infrastructure, Kinder Morgan was able to use eminent domain to acquire much of its needed right-of-way.

Because of its designation as infrastructure, the project had only to gain approval from the Texas Railroad Commission, which does not consider environmental concerns when issuing permits.

On May 21, another Kinder Morgan subcontractor hit a water pipeline owned by the San Antonio Water System (SAWS) in eastern Hays County. SAWS said no one was denied service because of the puncture.

The Vista Ridge pipeline, which runs from San Antonio to Burleson County, had only been in operation since May 11.

And on March 28, a contractor attempting to bore under the Blanco River near Chimney Rock Road in Blanco County ruptured a karst feature which sent tens of thousands of gallons of drilling mud and fluid into the Trinity Aquifer. Nearby wells were fouled, and the company has ceased work at the site until mitigation efforts can be accomplished.

After that, the Hays County Commissioners Court rescinded permission for the pipeline to cross county roads until certain conditions have been met.

Kinder Morgan has not responded to those conditions, though V.P. Allen Fore said the company is reviewing its “next steps with our consultants, the water district and regulatory agencies.”

A lawsuit accusing the project of violating the Endangered Species Act (ESA) has been filed. The pipeline route crosses habitat of endangered songbirds and there are numerous aquatic species covered by the ESA in both the Trinity and Edwards aquifers and the rivers they feed.

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