Commissioners ask critical questions about pipeline
May 14th, 2015 under Top Stories
By SASHA von OLDERSHAUSEN
MARFA – The Presidio County Commissioners’ Court took pipeline reps to task at Tuesday’s regularly scheduled meeting, where members of the public and Energy Transfer Partners reps alike were invited to comment on the Trans Pecos Pipeline.
Dozens crowded into the tiny judge’s office for what would turn into a five hour-long meeting. Due to the anticipated breadth of interest on the subject, the Commissioners’ Court limited the number of people allowed to make a comment, as well as the amount of time they were allowed to speak.
Many of the same voices spoke out and addressed familiar concerns with the pipeline. Rob Weiner, the associate director of the Chinati Foundation, spoke on behalf of the art foundation, and cited Donald Judd’s artistic vision as the philosophical basis for preserving the land.
“Protection of the land is intrinsic to Chinati’s permanent collection and at the core of the museum’s mission and the vision of its founder, the artist Donald Judd,” Weiner said. “Chinati urges Energy Transfer Partners to engage in a more meaningful dialogue with the community and also to reconsider the project based on the negative impact it will have on our region.”
Weiner then cited a quote from the artist himself, in an essay entitled “Marfa, Texas:”
“The area of West Texas was fine; mostly high-range land dropping to desert along the river with mountains over the edge in every direction. There were few people and the land was undamaged. Since then, there have been considerable careless development near the Big Bend National Park, which became the cause of the destruction of some land around it. This is the fault of Brewster County, which could have controlled the situation. I saw a lot in the middle of nowhere bulldozed bare of all rocks and desert vegetation to provide a yard for a house suburbanly designed and placed.”
Though the majority of attendees who made public comment about the pipeline spoke in opposition to the project, a couple of its proponents also spoke up.
Marfa resident Lineaus Hooper Lorette spoke in support of the pipeline, and cited the city of Presidio’s lack of access to natural gas as reason to build the pipeline.
“A pipeline is not new to Trans Pecos, but what we’re here to decide is whether Presidio is going to have a pipeline and whether we’re going to make the lives of the people of Presidio better by providing them with natural gas, or whether we’re going to make the lives of the people south of Presidio better by providing them with natural gas,” Lorette said.
Brad Newton, the executive director of the Presidio Municipal Development District, echoed that sentiment with his own perspective of the pipeline’s potential economic benefits to the city of Presidio.
“This is a real opportunity and the city and schools, they need this tax base,” Newton said.
Following the public comment, the Commissioners’ Court opened the floor to ETP representative Rick Smith, who gave a presentation detailing various facets of the pipeline project.
Smith stressed that ETP representatives were receptive to the community’s concerns and that they had even made some adjustments to the route on the south end of the pipeline in response to these concerns.
Presidio County commissioners and county judge Cinderela Guevara listened attentively before launching into a full-scale cross-examination of aspects pertaining to the pipeline.
Councilmember Jim White said, “After all these public meetings, it seems like you’re not giving the public or the commissioners’ court a real firm plan on where the route is,” he said. “You’re doing a good job of being good PR men but I think the community would like to see a positive response to their reaction and some concrete information about where the pipeline is going to be.”
The commissioners also asked critical questions about the acquisition of a presidential permit, which will be required for the pipeline to cross the border, as well as eminent domain, and concerns of public safety.
But like much of the communications related to the pipeline, Smith seemed to deflect many of the questions that the Commissioners’ Court asked. However, the commissioners kept on task, and demanded concrete answers.
Commissioner Lorenzo Hernandez asked, “In case of an accident during the construction, are you guys prepared for that?”
Smith responded, “We are setting up a plan with certain locations and GPS points to coordinate an emergency response plan and we will work with the local emergency response team.”
Guevara chimed in: “Will you have a Hazmat team?”
Smith said, “Hazmat is more specifically focused on liquid spills. This is a gas pipeline.”
Hernandez said, “So you have a plan in case something happens? And part of that plan includes you bringing in your own EMTs?”
Smith responded, “We don’t have a plan finalized yet. As I mentioned, we’ll be working with local emergency response teams.
Guevara asked, “Do you have emergency response personnel?”
Smith said, “No we don’t bring in EMTs just to sit there along the pipeline. We’ll coordinate that with the local officials as well. We’ll make sure it’s a coordinated effort.”
Hernandez responded, “My concern is that we don’t have 10 ambulances in the city of Presidio so let’s say something happens in one of your areas, then we’ll be without ambulance service.”
Smith retorted, “As I said, we’ll work with the local emergency response people. We’ll make sure what the best avenue is.”
Much of the discussion unfolded in this crossfire manner, and yet many questions remained unanswered.
Nearing the end of the discussion, Commissioner White said, “The landowners and the royalty owners will get some income but the normal citizen in Brewster and Presidio counties – other than the ad valorem tax – won’t reap any benefits, is that true?”
Smith said, “I don’t agree with that at all. It provides an opportunity for economic development to the extent the county or the city wants to seize upon the opportunity.”
White retorted, “How is that going to help the citizens here in Presidio County? We have natural gas in Marfa, and in Presidio there are questions of whether they can afford the infrastructure. So, I can’t see any concrete benefit to the common citizen.”
Smith repeated the claim that having a pipeline would provide an added tax base, as well as the possibility of economic development.
“I understand that theory,” White said to applause from the audience. “But in reality what’s actually going to happen is probably somewhat different from that.”