In court, opponents to pipeline through Hays county call for more oversight

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — A judge finished hearing arguments Wednesday in a case brought forth by local governments and property owners who oppose the intended route of a natural gas pipeline through the Hill Country. Now she says she will spend several weeks working to make a decision about whether there should have been more regulation or oversight for the process. 

The judge expects to have a decision ready in two to three weeks and an attorney for Kinder Morgan stated that the company would hold off from making any foreclosure proceedings against the plaintiffs until she makes her decision. Is this case goes to trial, the attorneys involved would want a trial in July or August. It is likely that no matter the outcome of this case, the outcome will be appealed. 

In a Travis County Courtroom Wednesday, Judge Lora J. Livingston heard two more witnesses brought forward by the defendants in this case: the pipeline company Kinder Morgan and the Texas Railroad Commission.

The plaintiffs — the City of Kyle, Hays County and three landowners — brought forward all their witnesses at a hearing Tuesday. These parties have expressed concerns about the safety, environmental and economic repercussions of the Permian Highway Pipeline project. They object to the way Kinder Morgan set the route for the pipeline before seeking public input.

They are hoping the judge will agree with them that the Railroad Commission has not carried out the public oversight with Kinder Morgan required by the Texas constitution These Hays County plaintiffs are hoping the judge establishes a temporary injunction that prohibits any exercise of eminent domain on this pipeline –at least in Gillespie, Blanco, and Hays Counties — until a final “trial of merit” happens or guideline standards for gas pipeline oversight are established by the Railroad Commission.  

Such a ruling would call into question the ways that pipelines have been setting routes in Texas or more than a century. 

Kinder Morgan and the Texas Railroad Commission are trying to dismiss this lawsuit related to the state’s eminent domain process. The Texas Railroad Commission is asking to be dismissed from this lawsuit entirely. 

The Permian Highway Pipeline would carry natural gas for more than 400 miles through a 42-inch-wide pipe from West Texas to Katy, and Kinder Morgan and others have been working for months to determine the exact route. It will cost an estimated $2 billion for the gas companies involved to carry out this project. This pipeline will be designed to move as much as 2.1 billion cubic feet per day of natural gas.

The companies involved expect the pipeline to be in service in late 2020 as long as all the regulatory approvals go well. They expect construction to begin in the fall of 2019. Kinder Morgan will build and operate the pipeline, although other gas utilities will be involved. 

Houston-based Kinder Morgan believes they have extensively tried to reach out to each impacted landowner and make adjustments to their route accordingly. The company also noted that there are “more than 100 miles” of gas pipeline that already run through the Hill Country, some of which belong to them. However, the city of Kyle and Hays County believe that what is different about this pipeline is it will have a negative impact on local governments by disrupting existing and planned development. 

The landowners involved in suing the pipeline company all testified Tuesday that while Kinder Morgan had offered them money for the easement of their properties, the money was not sufficient compensation for the potential impacts of the pipeline on their property. 

For KXAN’s coverage of what happened in the courtroom yesterday, look here. 

After listening to more than six hours of the hearing, the judge adjourned the hearing Wednesday evening, saying that she would take several weeks to decide. She is weighing out the temporary injunction request, a plea from the Railroad Commission to be dismissed as a defendant, and a motion to dismiss this case by the gas industry members involved in a challenge to the plaintiffs’ argument under the Texas Constitution. 

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