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Jo Clifton is the Politics Editor for the Austin Monitor.
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Tuesday, May 28, 2019 by Jo Clifton
Landowners, pipeline company meet in court today
Attorneys for Hill Country landowners along with the city of Kyle and Hays County have prepared for a fight this morning with lawyers for Kinder Morgan Texas Pipeline and the Texas Railroad Commission over the route of the proposed natural gas pipeline and whether the commission has lived up to its constitutional responsibility in overseeing Kinder Morgan’s exercise of its power of eminent domain.
Kinder Morgan proposes to build the approximately 430-mile Permian Highway Pipeline through the Hill Country, between the Waha junction near the Permian basin and the Texas Gulf Coast. The estimated cost of building the pipeline is $2 billion and construction is slated to begin in the fall, unless something happens to stop it. Lawyers with experience in the field have told media outlets, including Community Impact, that chances of winning against the pipeline company are slim.
Although the company conducted a number of open houses to discuss the pipeline, the Railroad Commission did not require any public meetings, and according to the lawsuit, did not investigate alternate routes. What the plaintiffs are seeking would be a substantial change in the commission’s way of doing business. Government agencies such as the Texas Department of Transportation must do significant analysis to show that they have chosen the best route, but private companies are not required to do so.
Andy Sansom, the lead plaintiff in the case, is a well-known conservationist and former executive director of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department who owns a life estate in the 1,565-acre Hershey Ranch in Gillespie County. Kinder Morgan intends to install its pipeline through the middle of the ranch, which according to the lawsuit, “threatens to interfere with the core value and purpose of the ranch, including the cultural and natural resources that are there and the holistic management of the property for the benefit of wildlife.”
The pipeline is also slated to cross the property of a second plaintiff, Heinz Stefan Roesch of Blanco County. The proposed location of the pipeline is about 400 feet from the Roesch home, which the lawsuit says places him and any guests he might have “in danger in the event of a rupture or explosion.”
According to the lawsuit, Kyle is expected to be among the fastest-growing cities in the United States by 2020 and the pipeline, as configured, crosses through residential neighborhoods as well as areas slated for annexation. Kyle city leaders say Kinder Morgan did not consult with them before choosing the route and that the pipeline could endanger the health and safety of Kyle residents.
A representative for Kinder Morgan told Community Impact that the “current Hill Country route is the best route from an environmental and constructability perspective.”
Lawyers for the railroad commission and Kinder Morgan will first ask Judge Lora Livingston to dismiss the lawsuit, saying that the plaintiffs are seeking relief not provided by the Constitution and that the court lacks jurisdiction. If those motions fail and the suit goes forward, the plaintiffs will ask for a temporary injunction to prevent Kinder Morgan from taking further action to build its pipeline until the Railroad Commission has created and implemented a public process for determining the best route.
The lawsuit has financial support from members of TREAD, the Texas Real Estate Advocacy and Defense Coalition, which describes itself as a bipartisan group that advocates for and defends landowner rights on a state and local level.
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Key Players & Topics In This Article
Hays County: Hays County, adjacent southwest to Travis County, has a total area of 680 square miles. It contains Buda, Dripping Springs, Kyle, Wimberley and San Marcos, among other communities.