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Under pressure, Longhorn resumes pipeline tests

Friday, August 12, 2005 by

Under pressure from stakeholders such as the Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District (BSEACD) and the City of Austin, Longhorn Partners Pipeline has begun safety testing the portion of its controversial gasoline pipeline that passes through the Austin area.

Earlier this year, Longhorn informed the US Department of Transportation’s Office of Pipeline Safety (OPS) that it wanted to postpone a series of federally mandated safety tests it agreed to perform as part of its deal to get the 700-mile long pipeline up and running after years of legal battles. The pipeline’s route through South Travis and Northern Hays counties runs directly across the recharge zone of the Barton Springs segment of the Edwards Aquifer.

BSEACD General Manager Kirk Holland said he had several meetings with Longhorn and federal officials in the past few weeks, including a conversation with Chuck Lesniak of the City of Austin.

“He said they realigned some of their marketing efforts to get enough product in the pipeline to push the test pig through,” he said. “They also recently installed a new “pig trap” (an entry point for the testing device, known as a pig) just east of the Austin area in order to run the tests through this part of the pipeline.”

In June, Longhorn Vice President O.B. Harris told aquifer officials that there was not a sufficient flow of product in the pipeline to push the pig through the pipeline, and complained that delays and negative publicity surrounding the pipeline had caused many potential customers to take their business elsewhere. At that time, Longhorn officials estimated that the safety tests would be performed sometime between October and June of 2006.

However, Holland said the OPS informed him last week that Longhorn had run a full test on the line between miles 156 and 182 of the pipeline, and according to preliminary results, found a "a considerable amount of debris in certain parts of the line that interfered with their ability to obtain good, processable data on deformation and corrosion” in those parts of the pipeline. He said they have run a brush pig, or cleaning device, through the pipeline to remove the contamination and will run the test pig again to confirm the earlier test.

“If they find any noticeable problems, they are required to perform immediate repairs,” Holland said. “They are required to report any problems found with the line to federal officials within 21 days, and must file a full report on the tests within 60 days.”

The pipeline has a long and controversial history in the Austin area. In 1995 the company announced its intention to revive the 18-inch, 700 mile long pipeline that runs from Galena Park near Houston to El Paso. The pipeline, built in the 1950s, originally carried crude oil to refineries in the West, but Longhorn proposed to ship as much as 225,000 gallons a day of highly volatile refined gasoline.

The City of Austin, joined by environmental groups and neighborhood associations, fought the pipeline project at every turn, in the courts and through the regulatory process. In 1999, Longhorn, the plaintiffs and the federal agencies involved settled the federal lawsuit by agreeing to a voluntary Environmental Assessment (EA) jointly directed by EPA and DOT, under guidelines and procedures agreed to all parties. The agencies released a draft report that included a preliminary Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI).

As part of the EA process in 1999, Longhorn had submitted an extensive list of additional measures it will take to enhance safety and environmental protections of the pipeline before start-up and during operations. However, the city and other appealed, but in February of this year, the US Supreme Court refused to hear the case, clearing the way for Longhorn to begin operations.

Holland said pressure from local officials was a major factor in Longhorn doing an about-face on performing the safety tests.

“There’s no question that they were responding to what we were doing,” he said. “We got the Department of Transportation in Washington involved, and they strongly encouraged Longhorn to do the testing and live up to the agreement they made. We made a major difference.”

BOA approves extra height at 13th and Nueces

West Austin neighborhood advocate Blake Tollett and agent Jim Bennett found themselves on opposite sides of a case before the Board of Adjustment once again Monday night. Despite Tollett’s opposition to a request by Bennett’s client, the Texas District and County Attorneys Association, to add another story onto its office building at 13th and Nueces streets, the BOA approved the request.

While the TDCAA did not need a height variance for the project, it did need a variance to the floor-to-area ratio ( FAR) limits of GO zoning.

“We’re not asking for a variance on set-back, height, or building coverage, simply FAR,” said Bennett. “The association has outgrown the current space and cannot find suitable space in the area. We don’t think it will change the character of the area.” He pointed out that while most of the surrounding properties were zoned GO, there was a site nearby with DMU zoning which allowed an FAR of up to 5 to 1. The TDCAA was seeking a floor-to-area ratio of 2 to 1 in order to increase the total size of its building from 10,000 square feet to 12,500 square feet.

“We fought the DMU zoning coming across San Antonio Stree t,” said Tollett, who spoke as a concerned owner of three properties in the surrounding area. “At the time, we were afraid that this would start to change the character of the neighborhood. If you look at the zoning map, it is all GO over there, except for the aberration of the DMU.”

He argued that increasing the height of the TDCAA building would violate the character of the neighborhood, which is primarily former single-family homes that have been converted into offices. “I just think that what they already have is enough. It’s going to be a tall structure in there. I don’t think it’s going to be compatible with the other buildings that are there right now. I think there’s a community character there,” he said. “This structure is going to loom over that area.”

Bennett countered that the addition of one story to the existing building would not have a dramatic impact on the street. “We don’t think that the building will loom. There are other existing office buildings, some two and three stories in height,” he said. “I think it would be difficult for one to drive down the road and say ‘Oh, that building looks like it exceeded the FAR.’”

Most of the board sided with Bennett’s argument that the association should be allowed to add on to its current building, citing the need for the statewide group to remain close to the Capitol complex in order to serve its members. Board Member Greg Smith moved to approve the FAR variance, with an emphasis on the proximity of the DMU zoning in his findings, and the board supported him on a vote of 4-1. Only Board Member Betty Edgemond was opposed.

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

Rock crusher re-files well permits . . . KDBJ Company has re-filed permit applications for three water wells at its Hays County rock crushing plant with the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District. The company had filed for the permits earlier this year, but just before a scheduled hearing before the aquifer board on June 9, it was discovered that KDBJ had not properly notified nearby landowners of the hearings. The board declared the permit applications to be incomplete, and canceled the hearing, which drew almost 100 people. KDBJ operates the controversial rock crushing plant near Buda under a temporary TCEQ permit. BSEACD General Manager Kirk Holland said new rules put in place since that time will make all permit applicants demonstrate that they have met all requirements before a public hearing can be scheduled. Holland said it is likely that a hearing for the KDBJ permits could be held in late September or early October. . . For whom the toll costs . . .Members of the Austin Toll Party are taking their call for a boycott of the car dealerships owned by Round Rock Mayo r and CAMPO Board Member Nyle Maxwell to a new level this weekend. They're planning a public demonstration outside of Maxwell Ford in South Austin on Saturday with a mock toll booth. Manning the toll booth will be a version of the Grim Reaper, which the group is calling the " Grim Toller," symbolizing the "death of the taxpayer" the group says will be caused by the CAMPO toll road plan.. . . Overcoming barriers, or loiterers?. . . The State Preservation Board has announced it is taking risers out of the back of many of the meeting rooms in the state Capitol extension, according to the online newsletter Quorum Report. Editor Harvey Kronberg writes that the Preservation Board says the move is designed to provide more access in the back of the room for the disabled, but opening up the space is likely to just stop people with computers who need power outlets-like our In Fact Daily reporter-from having a place to sit during hearings. . . Walking and biking safety . . . That lecture your mother gave you when you were a child about looking both ways before crossing the street is apparently not good enough anymore. The Austin/Travis County Health & Human Services Department and the Trans Texas Alliance is sponsoring a free workshop to improve walking and bicycling safety in the community. The workshop, today from 10am to noon at the Conley-Guerrero Senior Center, 808 Nile St., will provide participants with an introduction to successful methods of overcoming barriers to safe walking in their neighborhoods or business districts and ways to develop safe routes to schools. Head on down, and put Momma's mind at ease. . . There's an Okie in the Springs! . . . During a staff report to the BSEACD board last night on choosing an entity to perform a research study on the Barton Springs Salamander, it was noted that the top two candidates were Southwest Missouri State University and the University of Texas at Austin. While discussing the relative merits of the proposals from the two institutions, Planner Timothy Riley mentioned that with the Barton Springs Salamander being endangered and all that, the researchers would be using a surrogate salamander in their study. UT did not specify who or what species would be their stand-in, but the folks from SMSU stated that they planned to use the " Oklahoma Salamander" in their study. We're not sure if that made any difference, but the board decided to give UT the first shot at negotiating a contract.

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