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Hays County takes the fight to Kinder Morgan with lawsuit over proposed pipeline

Tuesday, April 23, 2019 by DaLyah Jones

After months of community protests, a group of more than 20 landowners and city leaders gathered Monday to announce that Hays County and the city of Kyle had officially joined a lawsuit to oppose a natural gas pipeline proposed to run through Central Texas.

Local leaders also challenged the way the state oversees eminent domain laws, which allow pipeline companies to take private property for public use.

“They’re converting a big piece of Hays County into a different use than what’s planned,” said David Braun, legal counsel with the Texas Real Estate Advocacy Defense Coalition, a nonprofit covering the cost of the lawsuit. “They’re also making impacts on the environment and on the community’s emergency resources if there’s a leak or explosion.”

Kinder Morgan is planning to build a 430-mile pipeline from West Texas through the Hill Country to the Gulf Coast. City leaders say more than 1,000 landowners will be affected by the Permian Highway Pipeline.

The lawsuit – filed against the Texas Railroad Commission, Permian Highway Pipeline, LLC, and Kinder Morgan Texas Pipeline, LLC – asks that construction be halted until the Texas Railroad Commission establishes oversight over the proposed route.

Braun said there’s a lack of “transparency and participation” that violates the Texas Constitution.

Kyle Mayor Travis Mitchell said Texas doesn’t require pipeline companies to participate in a community engagement process and that’s caused some concern.

“We’re asking the Railroad Commission to help establish a process that is fair, transparent and allows the community to have a say,” he said.

Heinz Roesch, one of the landowners who is suing, said the proposed route runs through his front yard in Blanco County. The pipeline would place “him, his home and his guests in danger in the event of a rupture or explosion,” the lawsuit says.

“Kinder Morgan just gets to move the pipeline the cheapest route for them,” he said. “But, I think that it should be the safest route, and I believe that the Texas Railroad Commission has the power to do this.”

Roesch said his biggest hope is that the pipeline company “will be required to have a routing process to go away from people’s homes” and away from denser and more populated areas.

Since last year, more than a dozen cities, counties, districts and independent school districts in the area have sued, publicly opposed or passed resolutions against the project.

The lawsuit is “about NIMBYism – not in my backyard – and not about a constitutional eminent domain process that has worked well for decades,” Kinder Morgan said in a statement.

“We’ve met with more than 100 elected officials about the project, we’ve held five public meetings to discuss the project with Hill Country communities, and we’ve met with hundreds of individual landowners,” the statement said. “We’ve also made more than 150 route changes to accommodate landowners and in response to what we’ve learned in land surveys.”

The statement said the lawsuit threatens all infrastructure projects and “the very thing that has made the Texas economy the envy of the nation.”

The pipeline project is scheduled to begin in the fall. Litigation could take months to years to sort out, city leaders said.

“This is us taking the fight to Kinder Morgan,” Mitchell said, “and putting our reputation on the line to call on the Railroad Commission to help us in this process.”

This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT. Photo by Salvador Castro for KUT.

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