‘I don’t believe it’s in until it’s in’: Gillespie County landowner still fighting pipeline

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FREDERICKSBURG, Texas (KXAN) — “This is Texas, by God. I am fifth generation Texan and I am not going to roll over for a multi-billion dollar company,” says Kay Pence.

She has been fighting Kinder Morgan for more than a year now.

The company offered her $45,000 to run part of the Permian Highway Pipeline through her property.

“Our appraisal is based on what we’ll actually be physically touching,” explains Allen Fore, Kinder Morgan vice president of public affairs.

Pence and many other landowners disagree.

“We all contest that the whole property is being damaged by that because there’s a 42-inch high pressure pipeline running through the property,” Pence says.

Kay Pence says since the pipeline will bisect her land, she will have to find a place to board her horses during construction, which is expected to last about a year. (KXAN/Tahera Rahman)

Pence put her house on the market months before the pipeline route was announced.

She says once potential buyers started finding out that the pipeline would cut through her property, they starting walking away.

“Buy my property, put your pipe in and then sell my property. And if it truly sells for what you purchased it for, then you can prove that pipes do not impact the value of the property,” Pence says.

At her condemnation hearing in October, commissioners sided with Pence, awarding her $1.2 million.

“I’m not saying I’m against oil and gas. I am pro-energy, it has made us a successful state but at the expense of landowners and landowners not having a voice,” Pence says.

Signs against the Permian Highway Pipeline can be spotted across Fredericksburg. (KXAN/Tahera Rahman)

Pence says there’s a way for companies and neighbors to work together, but calls Kinder Morgan ‘a bad actor.’

“That’s not the way all oil and gas companies in Texas behave. Kinder Morgan’s just one of the biggest and they can push the hardest but they’re not going to take my land without me fighting for it because this is not right,” Pence says.

She hasn’t received that money, yet.

Kinder Morgan is appealing and she expects a long fight still ahead.

“I knew they would contest it. This is just the first step,” Pence says.

Legally, Kinder Morgan can still start construction through the appeals process.

“Payment is made, possession is granted,” says Fore.

He says as soon as they decide to deposit the money, crews can start digging, even while the property value is being negotiated.

“We’re able to have the flexibility of starting in places where we’re ready to go, not starting in places we’re not ready to go, yet. But all of that wrapped up and anticipated to begin as early as next month,” Fore says.

But Pence says until she sees it, she’ll keep fighting it.

“I don’t believe it’s in until it’s in. There is fight in the Hill Country. There are people that are going to, until the very last minute, fight. Until I see a ‘dozer out on my property, I say there’s still a chance to stop it,” she says.

Neighbors send a message to Kinder Morgan during this year’s annual Light the Night Christmas parade in Fredericksburg. (COURTESY/Kay Pence)

HOW CONDEMNATION HEARINGS WORK

Landowners in Hays County are also currently negotiating property values through condemnation hearings.

According to the Hays County General Counsel’s office, three special commissioners are appointed for a condemnation action.

They are appointed on a case-by-case basis by the County Courts at Law.

It is similar to a jury selection, but the list is shorter and simpler.

The commissioners hear arguments, like a judge, and issue a decision.

If either party disagrees with it, the case can be appealed back to the County Courts at Law.

CHANGING THE SYSTEM

“I knew that companies had the right of eminent domain. I didn’t realize how little power the landowner had,” Pence says.

Kinder Morgan insists it is following the law and Pence says that’s the root of the problem.

“I think 50% of the weight goes to the legislators that they did nothing to help do something to start giving landowners more rights,” she says.

She and other landowners have been writing letters to legislators and showing up at the capitol with a message:

“I will be here every session. You may not because you might get voted out because your constituents don’t want to be taken advantage of for profit,” Pence says.

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