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Local governments receive donations from pipeline

June 15th, 2017 under Home Story Highlight » Top Stories

By JOHN DANIEL GARCIA

johndaniel@bigbendnow.com

PRESIDIO, BREWSTER, JEFF DAVIS counties – Trans-Pecos Pipeline, LLC has promised almost $3 million in gifts distributed among the three county governments, the City of Presidio, the City of Alpine, and the Alpine Public Library, according to press releases sent by each entity receiving the funds.

The City of Presidio was awarded the largest donation, with $1,067,000 gifted from the pipeline company for to expand the city’s outdoor community recreational faculties.

According to a press release from the city, the facilities will be built adjacent to the Presidio Aquatic Center, with the expansion to include new soccer fields, basketball courts, tennis courts, volleyball courts, a playground, two pavilion canopy areas, and parking.

The facilities will take about a year to complete once the city purchases 10 acres of land at the proposed site.

“We are so excited to offer our residents these new facilities,” wrote Presidio Mayor John Ferguson in the release. “The completion of the recreational park and sports complex will go a long way in improving the lives of the children in Presidio, promoting a healthier lifestyle and affording them the opportunity to just have some fun.”

The pipeline has also donated $500,000 to Presidio County, which the press release states is the “largest gift in the 142-year history of the county’s existence.”

County commissioners are expected to vote on accepting the gift as well as how the funds will be allocated at their next county meeting.

“This is a truly magnificent gesture and I am very grateful,” wrote Presidio County Judge Cinderela Guevara. “This donation really exemplifies Trans-Pecos Pipeline’s commitment to work in support of facilitating thriving, robust communities. […] The Commissioners and I will work on to put this money where it will provide the most benefit to every taxpayer and citizen.”

According to the county’s press release, the county’s financial advisors and the county auditor have suggested the funds should be used to “pay down or eliminate the county’s debt” from the construction of the Presidio County Jail, which has “been a factor in forcing the county into severe financial straits at least twice.”

Another possible use for the funds, Presidio County Judge Cinderela Guevara wrote, includes the purchase of new equipment to improve the county’s emergency preparedness.

Requests from the sheriff’s office include in-car video systems, body cameras, laptops, two night vision binoculars, two drones, two ATV 2-seaters, and a Jeep Wrangler, the press release said.

The commissioners’ court, however, will decide on how the funds will be used.

Brewster County was also gifted $500,000, with plans to use the funds to bulk up the county’s first responders programs with the purchase of emergency response vehicles, firefighter equipment, and security cameras to line the pipeline corridor “to enable [Brewster County Sheriff’s Office] to monitor pipeline activity locally 24/7.”

The funds will also be used to recruit volunteer firefighters by adding living quarters to accommodate volunteers during times of crisis and to encourage Sul Ross State University students who volunteer to be on-call during Christmas and summer breaks.

The funds, Brewster County Judge Eleazar Cano stressed, were not given to the county as an obligation.

“[…] The ad valorum tax revenue that Brewster County will collect from the Trans-Pecos Pipeline is based on appraised value,” he said. “Legally, Trans-Pecos Pipeline has no option but to pay their fair share of taxes. Trans-Pecos Pipeline’s decision to provide half a million dollars to Brewster County was an option, not a tax law obligation. Relationship building seems to have paid off and Brewster County constituents can rest assured that your elected officials are doing their part to look out for your safety concerns.”

Though the pipeline does not span any area in Jeff Davis County, the pipeline company has gifted them $300,000 “for neighborly support during construction and for the use of multiple county roads.”

The funds, according to a press release from the county, will also be used for emergency response initiatives, with “at least some of the gift” being used for a second ambulance.

“Because we have such an outstanding group of volunteers and first responders here, we know that should there be an emergency in the area, we would be called in,” said Jeff Davis County Judge Jeannette Duer. “As chance would have it, while the Trans-Pecos Pipeline executives were here at that meeting, we had an unrelated emergency nearby. They saw for themselves how our volunteer firefighters and emergency service personnel swung into action. They were impressed and appreciated our efforts.”

Trans-Pecos Pipeline, LLC also pledged $400,000 to the City of Alpine, which plans to use the funds in support of the city’s “Vision Plan” and to bolster the Alpine Volunteer Fire Department.

The city is expected to spend around $215,000 for the construction of a 1.5-mile scenic walking path that will connect the northern and southern parts of the city, with the remaining $185,000 to be used for new equipment and vehicle upgrades for the city’s fire department.

“The city appreciates the financial commitment from Energy Transfer Partners to help facilitate increased readiness of our local fire department and enhanced recreation opportunities for our citizens,” said Alpine City Council member Rick Stephens.

Finally, the Alpine Public Library will also receive a $170,000 donation from the pipeline company, which will be used on an expansion project for the library.

Despite the representatives’ appreciation for the gifts, some area anti-pipeline activists have reservations on the pipeline’s initiatives in the donations.

“The donations are pretty much standard energy industry ‘playbook.’ Certainly the community benefits from the donations, but so does ETP/Trans-Pecos Pipeline in terms of buying goodwill and influencing public opinion,” Jeff Davis County resident and Defend Big Bend activist Coyne Gibson told the Big Bend Sentinel. “We should not lose sight of the facts: Trans Pecos condemned 39 area landowners, who have yet to be compensated. Their offers for easements were lowball, 30-times under market value on average. The pipeline poses a non-zero public safety risk, and even$3 million spread over four counties won’t fund sufficient training or apparatus.”

The risks, Mark Glover of the Two Rivers Camp and Big Bend Defense Coalition, are high with the funds not matching potential damage should there be a pipeline accident.

“There is no price you can put on a beautiful land and a unique community,” he wrote in an email. “The donations ETP throws around the Big Bend are crumbs falling from the billionaire’s table: $185,000 to Alpine Volunteer Fire Department – that’s gone in a day if their pipeline ignites a wildfire and with their safety record, we can’t count that out. If they wanted to be good neighbors they could’ve detoured 100 feet instead of razing a 5,000-year archeological site at Trap Springs. They built a blow-down facility (future compression station?) less than a mile from Alpine. Sunny Glen still has no escape route. They sued landowners if they didn’t go along with the scheme. If they wanted to be good – then why not be innovative with their billions? Fossil fuel takes our water and bakes our planet. The collateral damage of their frenzy to profit is huge. To me, the donations are devil money – not meant to help but to influence, to buy people off and ultimately add to their bottom line. Infiltration. That’s how oil and gas does it.”

“I am saddened that we the people allowed an entity to become so powerful,” he continued, “and allowed such disregard for the environment and went along with the Blackwater tactics used to de-humanize protesters (the backbone of all American rights).  We’re seeing the Big Bend go from the last frontier to just another play in the dominion of oil and gas.”

The donations, Lisa Dillinger of Energy Transfer Partners said, were doled out among the entities with usage agreement, which is why Marfa was not given a monetary gift.

The gifts, she added, were considered based on requests from the receiving entities.

“We are very pleased to be able to support the local communities through which we pass by providing nearly $3 million in donations along the Trans-Pecos Pipeline route,” she said. “The receiving entities were asked to submit requests to us so that the funds could make the greatest impact locally.  We take pride in being a good neighbor, good business partner and valued member of the communities in which we work, live and do business.”

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