Presidio, mostly, embraces pipeline project
Editor’s note: This article has been updated to include comments from West Texas Gas.
By SASHA von OLDERSHAUSEN
PRESIDIO – Every 10 days, Roberto Calderon pays $200 for an 80-gallon tank of propane. He and his father own and operate Restaurant D’Charly in Presidio, where, lacking a source of natural gas, they rely solely on propane as their cooking fuel.
Calderon, who previously ran a restaurant in Chihuahua, Mexico, where he did have a kitchen running on natural gas, said it’s nice to have the option.
“It’s comfortable,” Calderon said. “You don’t have to worry about refilling the tank. The prices are good, too.”
Calderon is one of a handful of restaurant owners in Presidio who face the same inconvenience. Hector Armendariz, the owner of The Bean Café, said he perpetually has to keep tabs on his propane levels. He pays about $400 per month for his propane, which like Calderon, is also supplied by West Texas Gas.
Of his propane supplier, Armendariz said, “We have him on speed dial, pretty much.”
Amendariz said he supports the Trans-Pecos Pipeline, especially if it means the pipeline will provide the opportunity to supply the city of Presidio with natural gas.
“I think it would be beneficial and I know it would probably be cheaper,” he said.
In the contentious fight surrounding the Trans-Pecos Pipeline, the question of whether a the gas pipeline slated to run through the Big Bend region would provide natural gas to Presidio has been one of the most hotly debated.
Representatives of Energy Transfer Partners have indicated their willingness to provide a tap for the city of Presidio to utilize. The pipeline’s closest point to Presidio would be some 14 miles away from the city limits, according to a preliminary map of the pipeline route.
At Energy Transfer Partner’s first informational meeting in Presidio, Rick Smith, the vice president of ETP said, “We’re going to put a tap in to the extent that they want to further that for economic development in the future.”
He added, “They would have to look with a local distribution company, similar to what they have in Marfa or up in Alpine. We’re not a local distribution company. We’re a pipeline company. We’ll put a tap in there for them.”
Two weeks ago, Brad Newton, the executive director of the Presidio Municipal Development District (PMDD), met with representatives from West Texas Gas. According to Newton, the gas company expressed interest in being the city’s local distributor company (LDC) in the event that the Trans-Pecos Pipeline does get built.
“I’ve been trying to talk to West Texas Gas about bringing gas to Presidio since 2009,” Newton said. However, in 2009, prior to news of the Trans-Pecos Pipeline, building a natural gas line to Presidio would entail running a distribution line all the way from Pecos County.
“It was just cost prohibitive at the time,” Newton said. “Now that the gas line is basically 10 miles out, it’s feasible.”
And now, said Newton, West Texas Gas is knocking on Presidio’s door.
“West Texas Gas was here to express their interest in exploring the possibility of obtaining the Presidio gas franchise. At no public expense, they want to put in the infrastructure to be able to deliver gas to commercial customers first,” Newton said.
J.J. King, a representative of West Texas Gas, stressed that the meeting with Presidio officials was an investigative one.
“It’s all contingent on if the Trans Pecos Pipeline happens,” King said. “All we have done is met with some people with Presidio and it’s completely exploratory right now. There are no deals.”
King added that part of the meeting was an attempt to ascertain how far the Trans Pecos Pipeline would run from the city of Presidio, and whether it would be economically viable to have a distribution line.
“If it’s 10 or 12 miles from Presidio, it’s more cost to get a pipeline into the Presidio area. If that pipeline is closer to Presidio, it would be less expensive. That’s why we’re exploring everything right now.”
But West Texas Gas has as much insight into the exact route of the pipeline as everyone else, which is to say, not much at all.
In the event that the Trans Pecos Pipeline does get built, a privatized natural gas pipeline would mean that the city would incur no costs for the infrastructure associated with building a distribution line.
“We don’t need any more government projects to supply utilities. This is private enterprise,” Newton said. “We’re not going to be like Fort Stockton or Alpine or Marfa and have the city run the gas. With the regulations, it’s just not practical. Presidio is into bringing in private enterprise—not creating another government entity.”
Indeed, one of the biggest incentives of bringing private enterprise to Presidio is the potential for more jobs, a commodity more sorely lacking than natural gas. In fact, both Calderon and Armendariz cited job growth as their foremost reason for supporting the Trans-Pecos Pipeline.
“I feel good because not only it would provide natural gas to the community of Presidio, but as far as employment, we need jobs,” Armendariz said. “We don’t have much here. Businesses would do good.”
A number of Presidio residents echoed Armendariz’s sentiments. Elida Martinez, who works the front desk at Three Palms Inn said, “In Presidio, there’s no jobs other than the schools, the retail stores and the border patrol. Most of the people in Presidio – a lot of men travel. They have to work somewhere else, and they come back to their families maybe every two weeks.
She added, “All of my family is in Odessa. And that’s the reason why they moved there, because there weren’t any jobs.”
For reasons related to potential job growth and the possibility of providing the city with natural gas, in the debate surrounding the Trans-Pecos Pipeline, the city of Presidio has gained a reputation for being its proponent. And, for the most part, those who do oppose the pipeline have not been as vocal in their dissent as those in say, Marfa and Alpine.
However, a poll of the town indicated that the opinion is much more divided than that. The Big Bend Sentinel / The International went door-to-door and randomly asked Presidio residents what they thought of the pipeline.
The verdict? Out of 50 people asked, 20 said they supported the pipeline, 15 said they opposed it and another 15 said they weren’t sure.
Still, many of Presidio’s local officials, like Brad Newton, are eager for change and see the gas pipeline as an opportunity. Newton stressed that while West Texas Gas was the first to express interest in the “Presidio gas franchise,” they won’t be the last.
“We’ve got the labor, we’ve got everything. The thing that is missing to our development in Presidio is natural gas,” Newton said. “The sky is the limit.”
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