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Kitchen, Republicans

Tuesday, February 20, 2001 by

Sponsor pipeline bills

Local jurisdictions would have more power

Freshman State Rep. Ann Kitchen (D-Austin) might be faced with less opposition than she expected from the El Paso delegation regarding her goal to raise the bar on the Longhorn Pipeline, but the question remained unanswered Monday night.

The 50-year-old Longhorn Pipeline, which stretches from Houston to El Paso, once carried crude oil. Company officials, with the blessing of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, now want to use the pipeline to transport gasoline. Environmentalists, the Lower Colorado River Authority and the City of Austin have firmly opposed the new use, despite Longhorn's promise of $40 million in mitigation measures. Those measures include replacing pipe across the Barton Springs watershed.

“This is an unprecedented situation, apart from other pipelines in Texas,” said Kitchen in a press conference on Monday afternoon. “No other converted-use pipeline crosses over drinking water supplies or is so close to our neighborhoods and schools. This is risky and potentially dangerous for our water supply, our children and our families.”

Kitchen, joined by the bipartisan quartet of Reps. Sylvester Turner (D-Houston), Rick Green (R-Dripping Springs), Robby Cook (D-Eagle Lake) and Glen Maxey (D-Austin) announced the bills—dubbed the Converted Pipeline Safety Act. The first, House Bill 1857, would require a public hearing process before the Railroad Commission to include guarantees that certain pipeline projects would have no adverse effect on drinking water or public health. Harvey Hildebran (R-Kerrville) is also a co-sponsor of the bill, but he could not attend the press conference.

HB 1857, if passed, will require written consent from political subdivisions that have an ownership or easement interest in the property crossed by the pipeline.

Kitchen said the bill brings the state and local jurisdictions more directly into the decision-making process on pipeline projects. It will give authority “to the folks who have to live with this pipeline,” Kitchen said. “They need to have a role in making that decision.”

The second bill, House Bill 1858, would require pipeline owners to carry up to $2 billion in liability insurance. Current regulations require only $15 million worth of liability insurance, which Kitchen said did not go far enough to address the repercussions of a major pipeline accident.

Cook described the bill as the way to assert the state’s authority. In the past, Cook says, “basically we realized we had to punt to the feds.” El Paso lawmakers were thought to be Kitchen’s biggest opponents on the Longhorn Pipeline. Kitchen addressed their concerns at her press conference.

“The Converted Pipeline Safety Act bills we have filed will not impede El Paso’s efforts to lower gasoline prices in their area,” Kitchen said. “The data shows that prices have been dropping in that area and are now comparable to the rest of the state.”

El Paso lawmakers might agree with that. Ramon Bracamontes, communications director in Sen. Eliot Shapleigh’s (D-El Paso) office says the Converted Pipelines Safety Act simply improves accountability for the pipeline. He agreed that El Paso gasoline prices have dropped now that a pipeline used by Diamond Shamrock has joined the Chevron pipeline. Shapleigh could not be reached for comment.

The two bills only apply to pipelines designed and built before 1970 for the transportation of crude oil that are intended to transport petroleum products after January 1, 2000. At a press conference yesterday, Kitchen said she was unaware of any other pipeline in the state that would fit such a category.

Spokesman Don Martin, who represents Longhorn Pipeline, declined to comment on Kitchen’s bills, saying company officials had not yet reviewed the legislation.

“By and large, Longhorn has been very supportive of strong safety regulations,” Martin said. “There are calls for public hearings, and indeed, the EPA held extensive public hearings all along the pipeline during their review process. The main thing from Longhorn’s standpoint is that the Longhorn Pipeline has probably been the most studied pipeline in the United States.”

In a written statement, Jeff Heckler of the PIPE Coalition, the grassroots coalition of opponents to the Longhorn project, praised Kitchen “for standing up for the safety of the citizens in her district.”

The state does have jurisdiction over pipelines under the Safe Drinking Water Act, Kitchen said. The act allows the state to protect wellheads. Adding an additional level of review at the state level, she said, does not conflict with existing federal guidelines.

Mike Heitz: Director,

Development Services and Watershed Protection Department

“When something goes wrong it’s currently confusing to the public about where the problem is,” says Mike Heitz, who is taking over development review and inspection duties—except for zoning—from Alice Glasco. The idea, Heitz says, is to consolidate the development review functions, which have been divided between DRID (Development Review and Inspection Department) and WPD (Watershed Protection Department). (See In Fact Daily, Dec. 22, 2000)

But Heitz recently sought to reassure members of the Environmental Board, saying, “The watershed side is not going to change. I think it operates every efficiently.” He said the department would stay where it is, but he would have two offices—one in Two Commodore Plaza (on E. 9th St.) with the Watershed group and another at One Texas Center. Heitz said he expects to appoint an assistant director for WPD and “hopefully in future we’ll have an assistant director for (development review) too.”

Heitz came to Austin in 1985, prepared for the challenges of a growing city. Jorge Carrasco, city manager at the time, lured Heitz away from his hometown, Louisville, Kentucky—where he worked as director of parks and recreation for the combined city and county. Heitz’ first job with the City of Austin was assistant director for building inspection. That job lasted about a year, and then he became acting director of what was called the Resource Management Department.

When he came to Austin, Heitz had already earned degrees in architecture and business, as well as community development. Since he has been here, he has received a Master of Public Administration degree from SWTSU.

From Resource Management, Heitz moved back to the Building Inspection Department, where he became director. With the bust of the late 80s, five departments were consolidated and Heitz became director of the Planning and Development Department. His next assignment was as director of the Parks Department, where he stayed for five years. When the Watershed Protection Department was created, City Manager Jesus Garza chose Heitz as its first director. That was a consolidation of all the divisions that were being funded by the Drainage Utility Fee. Heitz has had that job for five years, and is getting ready take on more duties, as director of an expanded department

“We are consolidating development services within the Development Review and Inspection Department, which basically means all of the activities there, minus the zoning and neighborhood inspection—zoning inspections, junked cars,” Heitz said. The new department will be known as the Development Services and Watershed Protection Department. The proposed effective date of the change is sometime in February.

As the chief of Watershed Protection, Heitz said his two major missions are to protect the environment and to protect property from flooding.

“Developing and protecting the environment is always a challenge, so the bulk of our discussions are in that area,” he said. “ However, we do have numerous discussions about the best way to protect property from flooding. For example, with the Crystalbrook neighborhood, there were lengthy discussions about whether to build a levy or a channel for flood protection. “The levy provides greater protection to the neighborhood and does less damage to the environment,” Heitz said. There are 175 homes in the neighborhood. “That was one where there would have been major channelization of the creek,” which would have destroyed the natural character and hundreds of trees, he said.

“The big projects, of course, are the Master Plan for the Watershed Protection Division, which identifies the challenge that the department has in front of it. We’ve identified approximately $800 million in CIP projects, both in flood control and water quality. That’s the unfunded need that’s out there,” Heitz said. “As funding becomes available, we have a list of projects in a priority order to implement.” Waller Creek, an underfunded project, continues to nag Heitz. “We’re going to go back and look at what our options might be for additional funding and then come back and let the City Council know our recommendations in that area,” he said.

He said the development review process “has gotten very complicated over the years. I’m very much committed to the environment and to the public safety. None of those areas are going to be any less than they are. We just hope they can be more efficient. Most of you have heard the horror stories,” he said. “Unfortunately, most of them are true.”

©2001 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Resource Management meeting . . . Southern Union Gas will be asking the Resource Management Commission tonight for a positive recommendation on the company’s plan to use gas conservation money to promote gas fireplace logs and air conditioning . . . Not meeting . . . The Planning Commission is taking this week off, as is customary after a Monday holiday . . . Chamber of Commerce chair . . . Susan Dawson of the Athena Group will take over tonight as chair of the Greater Austin Chamber’s board of directors . . . LCRA appointments. . . The Lower Colorado River Authority is set to name three members to the committee to study the environmental impact of water and wastewater services within Travis, Hays, Bastrop and Williamson Counties. Management of the LCRA has suggested appointing attorney David Armbrust of Armbrust Brown & Davis, Jim Kimmel, associate professor at Southwest Texas State University and Ken Manning, manager of environmental policy for the LCRA. The City of Austin has already named environmental activist Mary Arnold, Andy Covar, a doctoral candidate at Texas A&M University and a former employee of the city’s Water & Wastewater utility, and Professor David Eaton of the LBJ School of Public Affairs.

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