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Longhorn likely to win request for delay

Wednesday, June 22, 2005 by

City official still working to change federal agency's position

The federal Office of Pipeline Safety (OPS) has said that it will likely approve a request to postpone required safety tests on the Longhorn Pipeline, despite strong opposition from the City of Austin. A city official working to prevent Longhorn from postponing the tests said Tuesday that based on a conversation with an OPS official, he expects the agency to OK the delay.

Longhorn committed to perform an internal inspection of the entire pipeline shortly after the system began shipping fuel, but requested a delay in the inspection, which the company characterizes as “temporary.” Mayor Will Wynn sent a letter to the OPS last week opposing Longhorn’s request.

Chuck Lesniak, Environmental Program Coordinator for the city, said he had a detailed conversation with Roderick Seeley of the Houston OPS yesterday. During that conversation, Lesniak said he expressed the city’s concerns and Seeley “talked about why they thought they could approve the request for delay.” Lesniak said he hopes yesterday’s conversation with Seeley might be just the first in a series that may eventually lead to a compromise.

The OPS has more details than the city does about Longhorn’s plans and reasons for delaying the inspection, Lesniak said. He added that he expects the OPS to issue a decision in favor of the request this week, but he is still hoping to have more conversations with Seeley about the city’s fears.

Longhorn sent a letter to the federal agency and to the city in late April asking to delay the internal inspection, known as “smart pig,” because of insufficient gasoline flowing through the line, batch sizes, particulates in the system and segment length. The letter states that Longhorn performed an in-line inspection on 34 miles of the pipeline in the Houston area during the commission process last fall. However, when it was retrieved from the pipeline, the smart pig’s vendor concluded that the device had accumulated iron-based particulates on the tool sensors, which compromised data for the final three miles of the test. The vendor “has indicated that in order for the (smart pig) to be effective, Longhorn must minimize the level of particulates in the system.”

The other problem is lack of activity in the pipeline. The letter states, “Longhorn’s throughput volumes have been lower than expected, and system operation presently is intermittent.”

Gina Johnson, public affairs manager for Longhorn, explained, “In 2000, when we made the commitment,” to do the inline tests, “it was a very different landscape. We had contracts in place…those contracts expired because of all the court challenges.”

Asked how Longhorn might deal with the lack of volume in order to complete the test, Lesniak said, is delay shipments until they have enough gasoline until there is enough volume “to do a complete inspection of the pipeline.”

Johnson, however, said the company could not hold up shipments. “It’s is not our product. It’s our shipper’s product. We’re talking about a hypothetical situation . . . so I don’t know that we have the ability to let our customer know to hold on to it.”

“Longhorn didn’t offer any alternatives,” Lesniak said. “We’d like to hear a discussion of the alternatives,” adding, “we haven’t closed our ears . . . (but) it’s going to take some pretty serious convincing,” for city officials to accept Longhorn’s explanation of why it cannot perform the test.

Longhorn began operating the 50-year old pipeline, which carries both gasoline and diesel fuel from Houston to El Paso, in January. The company estimates completion of the smart pig test on the 150 miles of pipeline between Houston and Austin could be as early as October or as late as next June.

Harold Daniel, president of the Save Barton Creek Association, said, “Until Longhorn has performed the smart pig inspection, that line cannot be considered safe by anyone. The last smart pig inspection that was done before Longhorn acquired the line found 4,000 potential problems with it. They shouldn't be allowed to operate if they can't afford the safety measures – it's too risky. We see old lines like this rupture all the time. They've touted the internal inspection all along as something that would make us confident in the safety of the pipeline, and now they are not living up to their word. What else have they cut corners on?”

Gates OK'd for Rob Roy

Travis County Commissioners approved the abandonment of the streets in the Rob Roy subdivision on Tuesday, supporting the neighborhood’s desire for a gated community in order to eliminate the cut-through traffic off of Loop 360.

A handful of homeowners opposed the decision, which did give the commissioners some pause, although not enough to stop the vote. Some homeowners, including Dan Gilliam, insisted the issue was the principle rather than the amount of the assessment to homeowners in order to maintain six miles of roads in the subdivision.

Commissioner Gerald Daugherty expressed regret that the two sides could not reach a consensus but said the amount of cut-through traffic was staggering. County Judge Sam Biscoe, in moving to approve the motion, called it a decision that was, first and foremost, a public safety issue. The vote to abandon the streets in the Rob Roy subdivision so the community could be gated was unanimous.

Historic house wins variances

The Board of Adjustment recently granted two variances that will clear the way for the Clarksville Community Development Corporation (CDC) to move the potentially-historic Nelson and Texanna Davis House, built around 1914, from its current lot to another location within the Clarksville neighborhood. If the City Council approves the move, the home will be relocated to 1817 W. 10th Street and be rehabilitated by the Clarksville CDC for use as affordable rental housing.

That plan was drafted after the owner of the house filed for a demolition permit, citing the home’s condition and the desire to build a new structure on the lot at 1621 W. 12th. But both the Historic Landmark Commission and the Planning Commission have recommended that the home be declared historic. The owner is willing to cover the cost of moving the home and make a donation to the Clarksville CDC to help with the cost of renovations. “The house would need to be moved to be saved anyway,” said Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky, “so this seemed like a win-win situation.”

The CDC needs variances for the site on 10th street since there is already a home on that lot. The CDC owns the property, and its members want to keep the home within Clarksville to help preserve the historic fabric of the neighborhood. “Given that the CCDC maintains several properties in Clarksville for low-income, affordable housing, we canvassed all of our lots and found the one that was most appropriate, in that it would provide off-street parking and would require no destruction of existing trees,” said CCDC member Aubrey Carter. In order to fit the home on the lot, the CCDC needed variances decreasing the side-street set-back requirement from 15 feet to 14 feet and increasing the maximum allowable floor area for the lot.

According to agent Mike McHone, the owner of the Texanna Davis House, Jon Armstrong, is willing to fund the move to avoid a protracted battle with the neighborhood and preservation groups. “Rather than get into a situation where we have a contentious historic battle over someone who wants to develop a property, we’ve reached a compromise that we think works for the city. The Community Development Corporation has property. The house is the size it is. We are prepared to pay for it to move to that location,” McHone said. “The variances that are requested are minor. We think that this hardship is unique, and that anytime you’re dealing with restoration of historic properties you’re dealing with a unique situation. The historic property is what it is. You can’t change that building without taking away from that historic context.”

There was one person who opposed the plan. Sandy Cartwright, who lives next to the lot, said it would create a safety hazard. Another home on the street, he said, would lead to more cars and more parking. “The intersection of Theresa Avenue and West 10th is an important and already-congested intersection because there is no sidewalk on either side of Theresa. We have three very small kids and we’re required to walk in the middle of the road to get to the park because there are no sidewalks,” he said. “Cars take that turn fast. The more cars that are forced out onto the road to park, the more congested the space becomes, the more narrow the space becomes, the more dangerous it becomes.”

Cartwright also objected to the set-back variances needed to place the 884 square-foot home on the lot which already has one existing house. He argued that even with the variance, the home would adversely impact a significant tree on the site. “It’s a home that’s too big for the lot,” he said. “It’s a home that’s actually too big for the space they propose to put it in.” He also told the board that the Clarksville CDC’s desire to preserve the house did not meet the standard for granting a variance. “The hardship in this case is actually a manufactured hardship,” he said.

But after getting assurances from CCDC representatives that they would be able to complete the project, the board voted 5-0 to approve both variance requests. In response to safety concerns raised by Cartwright, the board required the CCDC to build a six-foot wooden fence and to seal the area underneath the home to prevent access. McHone estimated that it could be 30 to 60 days before the home is actually moved, if the City Council gives its approval, and CCDC members said it could take several more months after that for the foundation work and other renovations to be completed. Given those factors, McHone and CCDC representatives predicted the home could be ready for tenants in about a year. The historic zoning case for the house is on this Thursday’s Council agenda.

©2005 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Mourning . . . Gov. Rick Perry has ordered flags flown at half-staff on Wednesday in honor of the late Congressman JJ “Jake” Pickle. Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos made a personal point of privilege speech on Tuesday afternoon, calling Pickle a terrific supporter of the University of Texas who served his constituents with diligence and dignity. Friends and loved ones will remember the Congressman at a 4pm service today at the First United Methodist Church on Lavaca . . . Governor releases plan . . . Gov. Rick Perry outlined his own school finance plan for the special session on Tuesday. It closes the franchise tax loophole, increases the sales tax rate to 6.95 percent and increases the tax on a pack of cigarettes by $1. The benefits from the plan would be a 30-cent cut to property taxes the first biennium and a $7,500 increase to the homestead exemption, starting in 2007. It would give teachers an annual $1,500 per year raise . . . Alias . . . When the city printed business cards for Place 1 Council Member Lee Leffingwell’s executive assistant, the name came out Andrew Bowman, instead of Andrew Mormon, according to Leffingwell. It’s not all bad, however, the new Council member quipped—at least his aide has an alias . . . Toll road question on agenda . . . The City Council will have more than the usual number of contentious questions to answer this week. One which may sound innocuous, changing an agreement with TxDOT eliminating a provision that requires the city to pay 10 percent of the cost of right-of-way acquisition on expansion of three highways, could bring out anti-toll road forces. Because the roads will be tolled, the city is being let off the hook. But anti-toll activist Sal Costello argues on his website, http://salcostello.blogspot.com, that the city should not take the bait—since a study of the roads has just gotten started. On the other hand, if the Council rejects the contract amendment, it will cost the city money in added right-of-way costs . . . Support vigil . . . .The Central Texas Immigrant Workers’ Rights Center and the Religion & Labor Network of Austin are planning a candlelight prayer vigil to support three Austin workers whom they say have not been paid for their work by the same employer. The vigil begins at 7:30pm Thursday at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, 1206 E. 9th St. The group will caravan to the employer’s home/office where a delegation of local clergy leaders will try to speak to the employer and ask him to do the right thing and pay the workers for their labor. For more information, contact Ross, 474-0007, ext. 102. . . . Vital statistics on the move . . . The Vital Records office of the Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services Department will open at its new location Monday on the Health Department's East Austin Campus. The new address is Building C, 601 Airport Blvd.-near the intersection of Ed Bluestein (Hwy 183) and Airport Blvd (Loop 111). The new location will provide walk-in service for birth and death certificates. These services are also available telephonically, via mail and on-line at http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/health/vitalrecs.htm. Telephone numbers will remain the same: 972-4784 and 972-5208 (FAX). The agency's present office at 1111 E. Cesar Chavez will close for the move on Thursday and Friday.

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