Hays County Commissioners Court unanimously votes to oppose Permian Highway Pipeline

Hays County Commissioners Court meets at the courthouse in downtown San Marcos.

Hays County Commissioners Court meets at the courthouse in downtown San Marcos.

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Kinder Morgan is moving full-speed ahead with its plan to route a 430-mile, 42-inch natural gas pipeline through the center of Hays County—but local governments are making their opposition to the project known.

Hays County Commissioners Court voted unanimously at its Feb. 26 meeting to oppose the Permian Highway Pipeline “on behalf of the interests of the citizens of Hays County and in recognition of the potential harm the [Permian Highway Pipeline] poses to its natural and economic resources.”

The proposed pipeline is a $2 billion project that will run just north of Wimberley before passing between Kyle and San Marcos, according to a preliminary map provided by Kinder Morgan.

“I’m against the pipeline and definitely against the pipeline’s current route,” said Hays County Judge Ruben Becerra. “I’m concerned for the schools, homes, businesses and citizens that are impacted by the pipeline. I’m concerned for the environmentally sensitive areas throughout our county and the impact this pipeline will have.”

The county’s resolution comes after Kyle City Council passed a similar resolution on Feb. 19, which expressed the city’s opposition to the pipeline and requested legislators take immediate action to impose stricter regulations.

Although Becerra voted for the resolution, he said he believes it is “premature to completely close the door on the pipeline” because it would diminish the county’s ability to negotiate with Kinder Morgan.

“Instead of investing in litigation and in the end losing, we should explore other avenues in Hays County," Becerra said. "I believe Kinder Morgan should fund local commission oversight for an independent hydrology study, an independent environmental impact study and work with our local environmental protection agencies to find solutions."

Hays County’s resolution against the pipeline states that Kinder Morgan has not sufficiently engaged local governments to find out where there are already residential subdivisions or other developments in the process of being permitted.

Additionally, the resolution states the county’s request that legislators create thorough regulatory processes for oil and gas pipeline projects that would enable impacted landowners and local governments to have a voice in determining the route as well as create more checks and balances on the use of eminent domain by private companies.

“I know that one of my concerns that I have are property rights—extremely important to us in Hays County,” said Commissioner Lon Shell. “We take eminent domain extremely seriously. To allow a private company to have eminent domain without that type of a public process and public engagement, I think is something that needs to be fixed.”

Furthermore, the resolution states the county’s request that environmental and economic impact studies be required for all intrastate and interstate oil and gas pipelines.

Some of the controversy around the pipeline is rooted in concern from local residents, officials and environmental protection groups that the presence of a natural gas pipeline puts the Hill Country’s environmentally sensitive features at risk.

Opponents of the pipeline—which Kinder Morgan plans to build over portions of the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone—say they fear the pipeline will put the aquifer, and thus the region’s water supply, at risk for contamination.

Speaking at the court meeting, Dianne Wassenich, president of the San Marcos River Foundation, said the trenches the company will have to dig to lay the pipe over the recharge zone will make the entire length of the pipeline in that area susceptible to pollution.

“If we affect the recharge zone by digging long trenches, then for generations to come—forever—there will be new, long recharge features the entire length of the pipeline through the recharge zone that will forever accept pollution of any kind,” Wassenich said. “Sediment, herbicides, overflowing septic leaks and road runoff will be funneled directly into our aquifer and come out of our springs. You cannot clean up our karst aquifers once they are polluted and I think that’s something that everybody needs to understand.”

Former Kyle Mayor Lucy Johnson’s family owns property along three miles of the proposed pipeline route. Johnson said during the public comment period of the meeting that she opposes the pipeline not only on behalf of her family, but on behalf of the city of Kyle.

“This pipeline crosses through several new developments that are already being platted and, in some cases, are already being constructed and would devastate Kyle’s ability to manage its own growth,” Johnson said.

She said one of the hardest things elected officials in Hays County are charged with is planning for the future as the area grows.

“And this pipeline goes against the city’s master plan, goes against the transportation plan and severely damages the land values of folks that are trying to develop their property,” Johnson said. “There’s no benefit for us, for Kyle or for the county and I very much hope you approve this resolution.”

Commissioner Debbie Ingalsbe said she and her fellow members of the court have been contacted by hundreds of constituents pleading with them to stop the pipeline from going through Hays County.

“You know, in all of the discussions that I’ve had since this conversation started, I have not had one person come to tell me that they support this pipeline—in fact they’re all opposed,” Ingalsbe said. “So I think that speaks very high volumes. After reading the resolution, I’m fully supportive and ready to move forward on this.”

Ingalsbe and Commissioner Mark Jones are hosting a public information and input meeting regarding the pipeline at Hays High School at 6 p.m. on March 6.

 
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By Anna Herod

Anna Herod covers local government, education, business and the environment as the editor of Community Impact Newspaper's Lewisville/Flower Mound/Highland Village edition. In the past, Anna served as the reporter for Community Impact's San Marcos/Buda/Kyle paper. Her bylines have appeared in the Austin American-Statesman, Hays Free Press and The Burleson Star. She is a graduate of Texas State University's School of Journalism and Mass Communication.


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