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Presidio County to intervene in pipeline review process

July 2nd, 2015 under Top Stories

By SASHA von OLDERSHAUSEN

MARFA – The Presidio County Commissioners’ Court passed a motion to intervene with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) regarding the Trans Pecos Pipeline at Tuesday’s meeting.

The monumental meeting, which was moved to the upstairs courtroom due to the volume of attendees, kicked off with a public comment portion. Opponents of the pipeline, as well as representatives of the Big Bend Conservation Alliance, spoke out against the proposed pipeline.

The agenda was pipeline-heavy and included a request by the pipeline company Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) to survey some 40-acres of county land. However, due to the lack of information provided by ETP with regard to the tract of land, the Commissioners’ Court tabled the motion.

Presidio County attorney John Fowlkes said, “It’s not a good description, I don’t know where it is. They don’t even have a survey number. They’re not being specific enough with their description.”

But the crux of the meeting was hinged on two agenda items pertaining to the county’s participation in the federal review of the pipeline.

BBCA representative Coyne Gibson explained that the county could choose to participate in one of two ways – either to submit a comment on behalf of the county, as Brewster County’s Commissioners’ Court elected to do, or to make the motion to intervene.

Gibson stated that of the two possibilities, a motion to intervene would be the more impactful option.

Gibson said, “A comment is impactful but the least impactful of those two options. The commissioners at FERC will read it but not be compelled by law to act upon the comment. You are just there voicing your opinion as a body.”

He added, “A motion to intervene is highly impactful. It allows you to intervene directly.”

BBCA representatives stressed that doing so would not establish the county’s stance on the pipeline project. It would simply provide the county with the opportunity to participate in the review process.

Additionally, the county could request that FERC review the entire length of the pipeline. At present, since the pipeline has been designated an “intrastate” pipeline, which means it exists within state bounds, only the 1,000-foot segment of pipeline that will actually cross the international border at the Rio Grande is subject to FERC review.

Gordon Wagner, senior attorney of energy projects of the Office of the General Counsel at FERC said, “We look at the border-crossing portion of a pipeline, typically limited to several hundred feet, and we make sure it will be properly installed and operated. Our assessment of the facilities at the border does not include a review of the potential adverse impacts of the non-jurisdictional intrastate pipeline that will bring gas to the border.”

Fowlkes remarked that making a motion to intervene could also mean having to hire a special counsel to interact with FERC, which would be an expense to the county.

The Commissioners’ Court seemed reluctant to make a motion on the matter. Commissioner Loretto Vasquez motioned to table the item so that the court could study it further. His motion was seconded by Commissioner Eloy Aranda.

The court seemed poised to move forward with the vote before Marfa resident Cory Van Dyke spoke up: “Can we address the court before you vote on the issue?”

The Big Bend Sentinel/Presidio International’s own Rosario Halpern clarified, “There should be a discussion after a second motion.”

Following her remark, the Commissioners Court opened up the floor to public comment.

Van Dyke addressed the court: “We elect you to protect us in situations like this. It might be ok; it might be safe, but we don’t know,” he said. “Or it could be a huge disaster. If we don’t at least make a comment, and tap the breaks on these people, it might be too late.”

He added, “The cost of not doing it means we don’t have a say. We’re asking that you stand for us. Give yourselves an opportunity to ask a few questions.”

Following Van Dyke’s speech, Judge Guevara said, “I would like to express that I would like to file a motion to intervene. There have been too many explosions with these pipelines. All the money in the world is not worth one life.”

But Commissioner Aranda remained unconvinced. “I think that we’ve heard a lot of information about this pipeline—some good, some bad. We just asked you for two weeks to get more information. We’re not saying no,” Aranda said.

Halpern then addressed the court: “You are here to protect us. What this gentleman is asking for you to do today is to be a participant in this pipeline issue. By waiting two weeks, you’re not doing anything.”

She added, “Most of the pipeline will be through this county; it will affect all of us in many ways. You have to be a participant.”

Justice of the Peace David Beebe also remarked that while he was not opposed to the pipeline, he felt it was in the county’s best interest to file the motion to ensure that the pipeline be held to a higher standard.

Following the comments, Vasquez made a revised motion to take the option to intervene with FERC. Guevara seconded the motion, and the remainder of the court voted unanimously to approve the motion, including Commissioner Jim White. Commissioner Lorenzo Hernandez was absent from the meeting. The courthouse broke out in applause.

The commissioners then voted unanimously to approve a resolution with regard to the proposed pipeline project – one that requested review of the entire pipeline. The resolution stated, “…the Presidio County Commissioners’ Court petitions the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to intervene and assume environmental and cultural impact assessment for compliance with the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) for both the jurisdictional, and claimed non-jurisdictional portions of the proposed pipeline through Presidio County to ensure said pipeline is subject to federal statutes, rules, regulations and procedures.”

Those in attendance applauded the motion once more.

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