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Alpine to oppose presidential permit for pipeline

June 18th, 2015 under Top Stories

By SASHA von OLDERSHAUSEN

ALPINE – Tuesday’s Alpine City Council meeting was a monumental one and called to question the power of local government – not only in terms of the resolutions adopted by the council with regard to the Trans Pecos Pipeline, but also with regard to the level of constructive communication achieved between the councilmembers and their constituents.

The meeting ran for three hours, and at times reached fever pitch, with attendees and councilmembers alike speaking out candidly about the issues at hand. At one point, one man in attendance even called for city manager Erik Zimmer’s resignation.

Three of the agenda items in particular – all of them concerning the increasingly controversial Trans Pecos Pipeline – incited passion from those in attendance.

The first of these was a discussion to consider a resolution that would ensure the Trans Pecos Pipeline is built “to a minimum of the Code of Federal Regulations, Title 49, Part 192, Class 3 for the locations where the pipeline comes within one mile of the Alpine City limits.”

Some of those in attendance, who were invited to speak at the start of the meeting, suggested that approving the resolution would mean implicitly accepting that the Trans Pecos Pipeline get built.

Those who spoke alluded to Energy Transfer Partners’ safety track record, and the several accidents that have occurred in recent years, including a pipeline rupture that sparked a massive fire in the South Texas rural town of Cuero earlier this week.

“I’m going to tell it like it is,” said councilmember Rick Stephens. “We’ve heard about the challenges. There have been 185 significant pipeline accidents. Of those, five had fatalities, there were 35 injuries, and $22 million dollars worth of damage.”

He added, “In the event the pipeline is built, I think it’s in our interest to build it to the highest level of safety required.”

The motion was approved by a vote of four-to-one with councilmember Gonzalez as the only dissenting voice.

The next contentious agenda item was a discussion authorizing Mayor Avinash Rangra – in consultation with the city attorney – “to submit a petition to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to deny Trans-Pecos Pipeline, LLC a Presidential Permit to site, construct, operate and maintain certain approximately 143 miles-long 42” gas pipeline facilities to export and/or import natural gas between the United States and the Republic of Mexico for Energy Transfer Partners as it cuts through Brewster County, potentially endangering lives of seven thousand plus citizens in and around ‘Greater Alpine.’”

As the item was considered, Rangra – who drafted the agenda item himself – delivered a rousing speech on the power of local government.

“When I was a councilmember from 2003 to 2009, a group of business people set up a corporation called Motran with the idea of opening up the Highway 67 to 18-wheelers. The city council passed a resolution opposing it,” Rangra said.

He added, “So what can the city of Alpine council do? It can raise its voice. Yes, individuals do have influence, but the individuals elect the councilmembers. The council has to represent the public.”

Councilmember Gonzales made a motion to approve the item. But when Rangra called for a second to that motion, the room fell silent and very nearly met the same fate that the resolution to oppose the pipeline at the previous Alpine City Council meeting saw when the motion died after no one seconded it.

Attendee Jean Larremore called out from the audience: “Please don’t let this die.” Several others chimed in. “Please!” one person shouted.

Finally, Councilmember Cynthia Salas said, “Okay, I will second the motion but I do have some issues I would like to discuss with you as citizens.” In seconding the motion, Salas effectively opened the motion up for discussion.

Councilmember Nancy Antrim made a motion to amend the item to include a clause that would ensure the city council could see and approve the petition prior to its dispatch. Councilmember Salas seconded the motion.

What followed was a candid discussion amongst members of the council. Councilmember Stephens challenged Rangra by asking him about his decision six years ago to approve a pipeline that would run from Alpine to Presidio.

“How do you see the difference between what that action was back then in compared to supporting this pipeline?” said Councilmember Stephens.

Rangra rebutted the question to say that the particular pipeline in question those years ago was projected to serve as a public utility for the communities it affected. “That was specifically to provide gas to Presidio, not to export gas to Mexico,” Rangra said.

Councilmember Gonzales added that the proposed pipeline was to be a 12-inch pipeline, as opposed to the 42-inch diameter pipeline proposed by Energy Transfer Partners.

“It’s the difference between having an 18-wheeler and a little Chevy,” Rangra added.

Councilmember Salas then addressed the audience: “As you can probably tell I was a little leery about seconding this motion. Just because the last meeting, before I got home I had 53 e-mails and none of them were positive. ‘I’m uneducated; I don’t need to be out here; etc, etc.’”

She added, “We care about our city. Or we wouldn’t spend endless hours here. If we could get this support every other Tuesday, that would be great but we get the same few people attending every time. Moving on, Brewster County didn’t even support Pete Gallego. We didn’t even pull him from his own hometown. So if we’re going to use each other and we’re going to support each other, we need to do it all the time. Not just when we run into situations like this.”

Rangra said, “I wholeheartedly agree with her.”

The item went to vote again and passed three-to-two, with Councilmembers Antrim, Salas and Gonzales voting in favor of the item, and Councilmembers Stephens and Fitzgerald voting against it.

The final contentious item of discussion was the issue of Alpine’s sale of water for commercial purposes. Though the item used the term “commercial purposes” broadly, it became clear that the issue was once again, directed at the Trans Pecos Pipeline.

Councilmember Gonzales remarked that the city of Alpine has already sold quite a bit of water to Pumpco Inc., the construction company tasked with building the Trans Pecos Pipeline. According to a city ordinance, Alpine sells the water for commercial use at approximately 2.5 cents per gallon, Councilmember Gonzales said.

“I think we should limit the amount of water we sell to any commercial entity,” he said.

However, due to a number of complications regarding the legality of drafting such a resolution, the council tabled the item.

At the end of the meeting, each council member took a moment to address the audience. A number of councilmembers thanked audience members for sticking through the entire meeting, while others echoed the sentiment that Salas broached about increased city participation at meetings.

“Thanks everyone,” said Councilmember Stephens. “And I hope you continue to keep coming.”

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