Pipeline lawsuit claims issues with eminent domain, Kinder Morgan says the process works

Hill Country
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AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Mayor of Kyle and other plaintiffs in a lawsuit against Kinder Morgan and the Texas Railroad Commission laid out details of the lawsuit in a Monday morning press conference, taking issue with the eminent domain process.

“Do you know how many pages of application they had to file in order to receive the awesome power of eminent domain?” Kyle Mayor Travis Mitchell asked, holding up a piece of paper. “That’s it. There’s one check on this box.”

Kinder Morgan responded to the press conference in a statement, saying the “lawsuit is about NIMBY’ism – not in my backyard – and not about a constitutional eminent domain process that has worked well for decades, or the Railroad Commission’s process, whose requirements this project has already exceeded.”

For months, a handful of towns and counties in the Hill Country passed formal opposition to the Permian Highway Pipeline that proposes to build a pipeline carrying natural gas from West Texas to Katy, passing through the Hill Country. Last week, city of Kyle and Hays County officials joined the opponents of the pipeline in a lawsuit.

Kinder Morgan has eminent domain powers since it’s considered a utility company. It has discussed routes for the project with landowners for months, held five public meetings and met with more than 100 elected officials about the project. The company said it’s also made more than 150 route changes so far, both to accommodate landowners and in response to what it learned in land surveys.

It added that changing the route to north or south of Austin “would only increase the amount of impacted landowners without providing any environmental benefits, and we do not view one group of landowners as more deserving of accommodation than another group of landowners.”

“For the most part, pipeline companies can divide and conquer landowners and each landowner has to make a decision by themselves as to whether or not to accept an offer or to hire an attorney and fight and that’s a very difficult cost-benefit analysis,” said attorney Dan Richards, who is working with the landowners on the lawsuit. “In this case a large coalition of landowners have joined together and decided to fight collectively and that’s an unusual level of participation given the sensitivities of land that’s affected by this pipeline.”

Kinder Morgan said people whose land is used through eminent domain are compensated a “fair value” for easements on their property, and that eminent domain is a “time-honored process that is used on a limited basis when good-faith negotiations aren’t enough.”

Should the pipeline become a reality, it would pass within one mile of Kyle. The overall proposed route calls for the pipeline to run over the Edwards Aquifer Recharge zone and some of the Trinity Aquifer watershed. 

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