San Marcos joins growing list of local governments opposed to Kinder Morgan’s Permian Highway Pipeline

Nikkye Vargas, a representative of the Indigenous Cultures Institute, spoke in support of the San Marcos City Council's resolution to oppose the Permian Highway Pipeline during the citizen comment portion of the March 5 meeting.

Nikkye Vargas, a representative of the Indigenous Cultures Institute, spoke in support of the San Marcos City Council's resolution to oppose the Permian Highway Pipeline during the citizen comment portion of the March 5 meeting.

Image description
The list of local governmental bodies that have passed resolutions opposing Kinder Morgan’s Permian Highway Pipeline just got longer.

San Marcos City Council unanimously voted on March 5 to oppose the 430-mile, 42-inch natural gas pipeline set to be routed through the center of Hays County.

In addition to expressing the city’s opposition to the project, the resolution—almost exactly like the resolutions recently passed by the Hays County Commissioners Court and Kyle City Councildemands immediate state legislative action that would require additional oversight on the project and any future projects like it.

According to a preliminary map provided by Kinder Morgan, the pipeline is set to run just north of Wimberley before passing between Kyle and San Marcos.

The pipeline’s proposed route has been the center of local controversy as residents, officials and environmental protection groups fear the natural gas line will put the Hill Country’s environmentally sensitive features at risk—namely the Edwards Aquifer, which serves as the water supply for much of the region, and the habitat of the endangered golden-cheeked warbler.

Kinder Morgan plants to route the Permian Highway Pipeline over portions of the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone. Opponents believe that such a route will make the aquifer—which is uniquely sensitive due to its karst features—dangerously susceptible to pollution.

Kinder Morgan consultant Greg Neal and Ashley Waymouth, managing director of the Wimberley Valley Watershed Association, each gave presentations before the council took its vote.

In her presentation, Waymouth said that for more than 30 years, dye tests conducted by local scientists have proven how interconnected the region’s water supply is. As a whole, she said, that makes the region more sensitive to the presence of a natural gas pipeline than other areas in the state.

“They put dye in a sinkhole or a creek or in a formation and then they sort of test all of the surrounding areas to see where this dye reappears,” Waymouth said. “Sometimes it comes out in people’s bathtubs.”

She said a 2009 study found that dye placed in the Blanco River later showed up in the San Marcos Springs.

“In fact, continuously through these studies, we’re learning that during times of regular flow the water from the Blanco contributes about roughly 30 percent of the flow to the San Marcos Springs,” Waymouth said. “This pipeline is challenging and threatening both Barton Springs and the San Marcos Springs in addition to the numerous wells or other supplies.”

In addition to the aquifer’s vulnerability, Waymouth said the water bodies in Hill Country are particularly susceptible to increased sedimentation caused by the digging that is necessary to install a pipeline. She told the council about an incident in December, where a substantial influx of sedimentation appeared in Barton Springs following the digging of a single well in the Edwards Aquifer.

“If we can see that connection in this very sensitive area which has very—if not exactly—the same characteristics of our own, what could we expect to find from this 430-mile pipeline coming right through the middle of some of the most sensitive areas? Any amount of trenching, any amount of digging, any amount of excavation could trigger increased sedimentation in our springs.”

Increased sedimentation in the San Marcos Springs, Waymouth said, would pose a threat to the endangered salamanders that live in them and are found nowhere else in the world.

“[Kinder Morgan] will be destroying hundreds of acres of the golden-cheeked warblers’ natural nesting habitat, but they’re just going to buy some land somewhere else and call it good,” Waymouth said, referring to a federal credit system that is sometimes used to offset adverse effects of development in endangered species habitats. “They can’t do that for these salamanders, which are incredibly prone to increased sedimentation, to pollution, to any amount of disturbance.”

During his presentation on behalf of Kinder Morgan, Neal urged the City Council to reject the resolution as “unnecessary” and “ill-conceived.”

“Can we agree that this resolution, as it is written, is counter to the interest of Texas?” Neal asked, noting that natural gas is a substantial contributor to the state’s economy. “And it does nothing to address the stewardship of the resources we claim to value. Instead, the entire focus is recommending new layers of ill-defined governmental bureaucracy and changing the laws which have served the oil and gas industry for over a hundred years.”

Neal said the Permian Highway Pipeline will have a positive economic impact on the state and the communities it passes through because it is projected to add $42 million of increased tax revenue.

Waymouth, however, said she does not believe the additional revenue will be a net benefit to the Hill Country.

“In one version of the story, sure, there’s an increased annual tax revenue—but how much is that compared to how much loss we could expect to experience?” Waymouth said. “If any of this gas spills into the aquifer how will they clean it up? How will they get it out? So ultimately we are very concerned about the wellbeing of the San Marcos Springs, we’re  concerned about the wellbeing of our groundwater at large.”

Neal asked that the council talk to Kinder Morgan about the city’s concerns rather than asking the state legislature to change its laws to include greater oversight and restrictions on the use of eminent domain.

“I made my presentation as someone encouraging working with Kinder Morgan as opposed to sanctioning the project, and as I described, punting the project to the state legislature for them to take up these issues of the environment,” Neal said. “Keep the discussion here, locally, with the company that’s doing the work.”

Following the presentations, Mayor Pro Tem Lisa Prewitt noted that the pipeline is currently routed through some of the most dense and heavily populated areas in Hill Country.

“It goes through areas where there’s neighborhoods, subdivisions, schools,” Prewitt said. “We live in a city of Texas and y’all are just going in and literally taking people’s lands from them? Why in God’s name would you choose that route? I mean, that’s where our people live.”

As she fielded questions to Neal, Prewitt said that most of the people in the Hill Country are passionate about preserving the environment of the region because it is one of the primary reasons they choose to live in it. 

“I don’t think that anybody here is specifically telling you we don’t want you to put this new energy source and pipeline through, but you have one already opening up in West Texas—why not utilize that area already?” she said. “After learning how pristine and precious and sensitive this environment is and that if you had a spill that went into the aquifer there would be no way to clean it up—why would not you consider a different route?”

Neal told Prewitt and Council Members Melissa Derrick and Mark Rockeymoore that he could not answer their questions about the route and encouraged them to speak with the company’s Vice President of Public Affairs Allen Fore.   

“I’m a consultant. However my thrust—my presentation—this evening was to engage Kinder Morgan in further discussion and that’s the kind of question I believe they’re prepared to answer,” he said.
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.


Hays County residents have a coronavirus hotline to call. (Evelin Garcia/Rachal Russell/Community Impact Newspaper)
By the numbers: Hays County now has 42 cases of conronavirus as numbers jump statewide

Hays County coronavirus numbers continue to climb each day

ACC will offer students a pass or no-pass option for spring semester classes in response to the impact coronavirus has had on classes. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)
Austin Community College offers students pass or no-pass options for shortened semester

ACC will offer students a pass or no-pass option for spring semester class options in response to the impact coronavirus has had on classes.

Sendero Health Plans announced a new measure April 1 to help its members receive tests and treatment for coronavirus. (Courtesy Adobe Stock Photos)
Sendero Health Plans waives all costs for coronavirus testing and treatment for members

Sendero Health Plans announced a new measure April 1 to help its members receive tests and treatment for coronavirus.

Central Texas Medical Center will be renamed Christus Santa Rosa Hospital-San Marcos after the deal was finalized. (Joe Warner/Community Impact Newspaper)
Deal final as Central Texas Medical Center joins Christus Health

CTMC has become part of larger hospital system.

Texas Tribune: Some local elections in Texas moving ahead despite coronavirus spread

A handful of towns and special districts still plan to go ahead with their May 2 votes, arranging polling places despite calls from the president on down directing people to stay at home to prevent the spread of the deadly virus.

Businesses have been granted an extension to file personal property renditions in Hays County. (Evelin Garcia/Community Impact Newspaper)
Hays County business personal property rendition deadline moves forward to May 15

Businesses in Hays County will have an extra month to report property information.

Lake Travis Fire Rescue is one of hundreds of emergency service districts serving millions of Texas residents across the state. Firefighters, EMTs and medical professionals said they are concerned about the availability of personal protective equipment as the coronavirus public health crisis continues. (Brian Rash/Community Impact Newspaper)
First responders, medical professionals across Texas worry about inadequate personal protective equipment supplies

In a survey of emergency service districts across the state, two-thirds of respondents said they were concerned about a shortage of equipment such as masks, goggles and gloves.

Construction in downtown Austin
UPDATE: Abbott executive order deems residential construction as an "essential service" across the state

If Austin's residential construction ban holds, housing inventory may disappear within a few short months.

Coronavirus cases have more than tripled in the last five days. (Joe Warner/Community Impact Newspaper)
Hays County introduces coronavirus dashboard with case statistics

Site shows statistics and map for coronavirus cases in Hays County

Data from the Texas Center for Nursing Workforce Studies shows that Central Texas will have a shortage of more than 7,000 registered nurses by 2030. (Graphic design by Shelby Savage/Community Impact Newspaper)
With Central Texas facing a nursing shortage, new rules could help more nurses join the fight against the coronavirus

With a potential shortage of 20,000 hospital beds in the local area by June, it is unclear if hospitals will be able to provide adequate staffing.

Texas Health and Human Services announced in a press release March 31 the statewide COVID-19 support line will be available seven days a week and toll free at 833-986-1919. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
‘It is important to recognize how our mental health can be affected by the pandemic': Statewide mental health support line established in light of COVID-19

Texans experiencing anxiety, stress or other emotional challenges in light of the COVID-19 pandemic will now be able to utilize a 24-hour mental health support line.

Dojo Kyle Jiu-Jitsu is located at 111 S. Main St., Kyle. (Courtesy Dojo Kyle Jiu-Jitsu)
4 Austin-area coronavirus stories from March 31

Here are four Austin-area stories pertaining to the coronavirus that you may have missed March 31.