Residents speak out about pipeline at commissioner’s meeting
April 30th, 2015 under Top Stories
By SASHA von OLDERSHAUSEN
ALPINE – Representatives from Energy Transfer Partners came head-to-head with area residents and commissioners alike at Tuesday’s Brewster County commissioner’s court meeting.
The commissioners’ court launched into the agenda with business as usual before opening up the floor to public comment.
A number of concerned citizens took the opportunity to discuss their apprehensions with regard to the Trans Pecos Pipeline, which in recent weeks has become an alarming reality for some, as the company has remained steadfast in its efforts to build the natural gas pipeline that is slated to run from Waha to Presidio, in spite of a strong regional opposition.
“In a few moments you’ll hear from some well-spoken gentlemen from Trans Pecos pipeline, who I notice have dressed down to meet the spirit of the land – the same spirit they intend to conquer,” said Mark Glover, a representative of the Big Bend Conservation Alliance, which has been pivotal in spearheading the opposition movement. “I ask that you take due diligence until you’re blue in the face, take some distance, look at who is really profiting from this and I think you’ll find that it’s two billionaires that don’t have anything better to do than to do what they’ve already been doing.”
He added, “This is special interests at its very worst conquering the last frontier of Texas.”
Histrionics aside, residents expressed concrete concerns with the proposed project, including a number of Sunny Glen residents, who addressed the fact that there is only one viable road that functions as an entrance and exit to the Alpine neighborhood.
“I’ve only been in Sunny Glen for seven years and we’ve already been trapped once by a railroad accident,” said Scott Wasserman. “There was no way out. And that’s not the only railroad accident that’s happened in this area in a short time.”
Wasserman addressed the commissioners’ court: “What is the county’s plan to get us out when things go south?”
Other residents expressed dismay at the proposed pipeline’s proximity to Alpine – in particular the fact that according to the preliminary map of the pipeline route, it is expected to run beneath Alpine’s airport and near Big Bend Regional Medical Center.
Then of course, there were the environmental concerns: “There are some aspects of this that are so distasteful. This might be the most expedient route, but it’s not the best route,” said Liz Sibley, another Alpine resident. “Most people in government in Texas have been to West Texas, and they love it. They come here with their families because of the natural beauty. Why would we jeopardize that?”
She added, “I wish that you would consider a slightly different route.”
The public comment portion of the meeting concluded, and was followed by a brief recess, after which the commissioners’ court invited vice president of Energy Transfer Partners Rick Smith, to give a presentation on behalf of the pipeline.
Smith detailed the schematics of the pipeline, including safety measures, economic benefits and a brief overview of the permitting process.
It was the first time that a representative of the pipeline company spoke conclusively about the project in a public forum – unlike its previous weeks’ town hall meetings, which were set up as an informal meet-and-greet. Some residents had expressed frustration with the format of these meetings, as they seemed to contribute to an inconsistent narrative with regard to the project details.
The pipeline reps also had the opportunity to respond directly to some of the concerns cited, including one resident’s concern about a contingency plan in case of fire emergencies related to the pipeline.
John Bilhartz, the project director for the pipeline said, “One of the things we’re very attuned to is fire safety. On this project, we’ll have mechanized welding. It will be done with a robotic machine that is inside a metal house.”
He added, “As they weld, they put a house down over it – an air-conditioned shack that fits down over the pipe and fully encloses it – and they do the welding inside that house. It contains any kind of sparks; there is no wind; there is no environmental issue that affects that weld.”
The meeting was constructive in that it allowed residents to confront pipeline representatives head on and to ask critical questions that could be answered before local officials.
At the conclusion of Smith’s presentation, County Judge Eleazar Cano addressed the pipeline representatives: “What we want you to understand is that this is our home, this is our environment, this is our county,” Cano said.
“The more aware we are of what’s going on in the process, the better we can digest it.”
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