The elephants in the room at Presidio pipeline meeting
July 8th, 2015 under Top Stories
Mexico, accidents, eminent domain
By SASHA von OLDERSHAUSEN
PRESIDIO – The voice of the opposition has been heard. At least, that seemed to be the case at a town hall meeting held by Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) in Presidio on Tuesday.
A panel that included ETP and Pumpco Inc. reps – as well as Larry Gremminger, an environmental scientist with the environmental planning consulting firm Gremminger and Associates, Inc. – addressed many of the questions and concerns that have been brought up by concerned citizens and members of the opposition with regard to the Trans Pecos Pipeline over the past weeks.
The meeting commenced as a panel discussion, followed by a Q&A—a shift from the round-robin format of its first public meetings in April, which drew ire from some members of the public, who felt the set-up was an effective way to defer concerns, and an ineffective way of getting answers.
During the presentation, which included a digital bird’s eye view of the updated route via Google Maps, the reps also responded to some of the speculation that has emerged with regard to specific aspects of the pipeline.
Among these was the question of water consumption. While members of the Big Bend Conservation Alliance (BBCA) had previously speculated that construction of the pipeline would utilize anywhere between 500 million to 1.5 billion gallons of water, ETP’s vice president of engineering Rick Smith, alleged that the pipeline would utilize 8 to 20 million gallons of water for its hydraulic testing of the pipe.
The pipeline, Smith said, would be tested in segments, and the water used to do so would be tested and filtered before being returned back to the surface environment.
A number of new bits of information also emerged from the presentation. Smith informed attendees that of the 143 miles that would comprise the pipeline project, Energy Transfer has already received survey permission from landowners accounting for 111 miles of that territory. However, survey permission doesn’t necessarily suggest permission to secure and easement. Smith referred to the “elephant in the room” – that is, the discussion of eminent domain, which he stressed, would only be used as a last resort.
“But is it out there?” he said. “Yes, it’s out there.”
Smith also remarked that Pecos and Brewster counties would each have one tap installed along the route, while Presidio County would have three. Smith credited Presidio Municipal Development District executive director Brad Newton with “seizing the opportunity to leverage the use of taps.”
“We’ve been visiting Brad Newton with the city of Presidio and he pointed out the chili manufacturer who wants to build a plant is securing the option for easements. Will there be economic opportunity resulting from the pipeline? Absolutely,” Smith said.
He added, “That’s only become available because of the pipeline. If the pipeline weren’t here, there wouldn’t be any opportunity for a chili manufacturer to look into putting a facility here.”
Smith added that the Texas-Pacifico Railroad line would undergo rehabilitation in conjunction with the construction of the pipeline. The rail line would be used to offload segments of pipe, and to minimize the amount of over-the-road transport.
ETP rep John Bilhartz, who is responsible for overseeing construction of the project, presented a digital view of the updated pipeline route within south Presidio County. According to these visuals, the pipeline would run parallel to some of the existing power lines, and cut across Highway 67 in a couple of locations. The pipe would also run just adjacent to the community of Shafter, in the approximate location of where its defunct mining operations currently reside.
Several of the 40 to 50 people present at the meeting were city of Presidio local officials, including Mayor John Ferguson, PMDD Executive Director Brad Newton, Presidio ISD Superintendent Dennis McEntire, city administrator Marco Baeza and city councilmember Dimitri Garcia.
A handful of Presidio residents also attended the meeting, along with several of those associated with the BBCA’s opposition campaign—Coyne Gibson, Katie Smither, Jessica Lutz and Lori Glover among them—many of whom made the trek from Marfa and Alpine. While the BBCA had previously stated it would boycott the meeting, the organization disseminated a news release prior to the meeting that stated it would, indeed, attend.
“Last week the Big Bend Conservation Alliance (BBCA) issued a statement indicating we would not be attending Energy Transfer Partner’s (ETP) town hall meetings in Presidio and Alpine on the grounds that we had enough facts to determine that the Trans-Pecos Pipeline (TPP) was unequivocally bad for the region. No additional information would be required,” the news release stated.
“However, following our announcement, the BBCA received an overwhelming number of requests from citizens and local elected officials asking that we attend these meetings in recognition of the BBCA’s leadership in opposing the TPP.”
Citizens had the opportunity to ask questions of the panel during a designated Q&A session that ran nearly and hour-and-a-half long.
During the Q&A, Mayor Ferguson, Brad Newton, and Dennis McEntire – who represent the local government, economy and school system of Presidio, respectively – expressed their explicit support of the project.
Mayor Ferguson said, “As mayor of Presidio, I want to welcome you guys to our community and tell you that as a chief elected official here, you have my support. I see the pipeline as providing…the development of the employment sector here.”
He added, “There’s another elephant in the room that hasn’t been discussed much by anyone, and that’s Mexico. Here in Presidio, Ojinaga is our sister city and we care greatly about one another and those of us who are supporting this pipeline see this natural gas line to Mexico as a great thing. These people are industrious and they want to prosper. And this natural gas is going to help.”
But there were some Presidio residents who seemed not quite as convinced.
Councilmember Dimitri Garcia and Mikal Crowder, a Presidio teacher, who also sits on the PMDD board, addressed concerns related to pipeline safety.
“How will you work with the city with regard to our fire department, in terms of giving the necessary training for any possible issues that might arise,” asked Garcia of the panel.
“We’ve already engaged with first-response individuals in Pecos, in Brewster and here in Presidio. We haven’t gotten around to everybody yet but we’re engaging in that,” Smith said.
But perhaps the biggest elephant in the room was the recent rupture of another ETP pipeline in Cuero a couple weeks ago, which resulted in a massive fire and the evacuation of several residents in the area. However, early on his presentation, Smith remarked that they would not be taking questions with regard to the incident.
“As soon as the investigation is over and filed with the Railroad Commission, that will be public information and can be shared with all. We won’t be taking questions tonight about Cuero,” Smith said.
Following the Tuesday presentation, Presidio County resident Laurie Holman remarked, “One thing that I found very bothersome…was how when the Mayor and [Brad Newton] of Presidio got up to address the pipeline committee, no questions were asked by either one. They both praised the people there representing the pipeline and told them how happy they were that the pipeline was coming to our area.”
She added, “I found this very disturbing and misrepresentative of all the people in Presidio. Not all of us are so excited about the deal. No questions about how our city would handle an explosion, no questions on how many workers from other areas will be coming down, no questions about trucks on the only highway coming in and out of this town. No questions at all.”
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