Local officials and Conservation Alliance member weigh in on Trans-Pecos Pipeline town hall meeting in Alpine

By John Waters, Publisher

On July 8, representatives from Energy Transfer Partner, owner of the proposed 143-mile Trans-Pecos Pipeline that will carry natural gas from the Waha Hub near Fort Stockton through Brewster and Presidio Counties, held a town hall meeting in Alpine to discuss the project.

The following are observations from several local officials about the meeting:

Brewster County Judge Eleazar Cano: “I was glad to see some of our constituents whom I consider “the silent majority” step up to the plate last night and voice their opinions and position pertaining to the proposed Trans-Pecos Pipeline Initiative.

From day one, I have professed to be a good steward of our county resources. This includes our financial and natural resources, as well as our human resources. I am finding that often times, the three aforementioned resources have a way of overlapping into one another. Last night, for the first time since the inception of the pipeline debate, the human factor took center stage.

In my opinion, in order to reach an economically viable outcome that is environmentally sound, the local citizenry needs to come to the table and discuss, debate, and arrive at a compromise that will provide an improved quality of life for all of us today as well as for generations that follow. It is not my intent for this to sound like an endorsement for ETP, but rather an invitation to all of our constituent’s to make their voices heard.”

Brewster County Commissioner Luc Novovitch (Pct. 1): “I noted that ETP Vice President Rick Smith finally accepted that if the pipeline goes through Sunny Glen, it will be built as a Class 3 pipeline. This is something Alpine City Coucilman Rick Stephens and I have been asking since we learned of the proposed route. Mr. Smith also said that as an added safety measure this section would be buried deeper than the rest of the pipeline.

That being said, we still have no information about other safety-related concerns we have pointed out. In a communication to FERC, I mentioned that we have only two ambulances in north county, and a volunteer fire department. If an incident or accident should occur it is my understanding that only limited help would be dispatched, since we would still need to keep the capacity to respond to other potential emergencies in the city or north county. The Rock House fire of 2011 is still very present in memories. Local, regional, state and federal services were needed. In a populated area, this type of fire could rapidly become a catastrophe involving human lives and property. Basic information to prepare for such a situation is still missing—such as, what would be the blast radius of an explosion involving a 42″ gas pipeline? Who will provide specialized training to our emergency services? And so on….

I am glad we now have new Emergency Management Coordinator Matt Van Ostrand, who has already started on preparedness and logistics regarding potential situations. We are also actively seeking the possibility of establishing a second road out of Sunny Glen in case Route 1703 could not be used.

Mr. Smith and his team certainly made an effort to convey more information to the public present at the meeting, but a great deal more is still needed if this pipeline is to be built through our area.”

Brewster County Commissioner Hugh Garrett (Pct. 2): “The town hall meeting offered information, answers, and commentary in a reasonably organized and respectful fashion. I was glad to see a map featuring possible alternative pipeline routing to avoid Alpine and have requested more information from ETP regarding the evaluation process. Apparently, ETP listened to the city’s resolution sponsored by Rick Stephens about pipeline materials and construction in the Alpine area, but I need a definition of the Alpine ETJ to understand the impact.

Finally, folks that I respect greatly spoke eloquently of private property rights, but ten percetn of the private property owners in the pipeline corridor will be ’eminently domained’ for this project. What of their rights?”

Rick Stephens, Alpine City Council Member (Ward 5) : “I thought Energy Transfer did an excellent job in communicating where they are on the project. They have surveyed 111 of 143 miles with permission to survey an additional 15 miles, that is 126 of 143 miles, with 17 to go. They made a commitment for a Class 3 pipe near Alpine. [Stephens has been pushing for a Class 3 pipeline and originally proposed the idea several weeks ago.

We heard from a broad section, including Mo Morrow and Homer Mills who stood up as landowners and discussed the decisions they have made for decades, Ultimately the landowners have to make the decision [regarding pipeline easements]. Good people disagree, it was a very balanced meeting of those who support the pipeline and those against it.”

Dale Christophersen, retired professor of government and politics Sul Ross State University: “First, I was pleased to hear some points of view expressed which I had not been hearing previously. Second, I thought that the information presented by the panel members presented was useful. Third, the questions raising safety issues seemed most appropriate. Whether or not the responses are found to be reassuring, the information provided regarding safety was helpful. I do still have questions as to the intra/interstate determination and the state of legislative/regulatory agendas given the powerful political leverage of oil and gas interests. Last, it seems to me that had the community relations folks representing the company put on this kind of event much earlier instead of what they did, some of the heat might have been lessened.”

During the meeting, representatives from the Big Bend Conservation Alliance waved red flags in protest when Energy Transfer representatives and citizens made comments with which the group disagree. Several local officials found this to be in poor taste.

One local elected official who asked not to be identified commented, “As an observer at the Trans-Pecos Pipeline town hall, I was ashamed of my hometown. I was raised to be courteous and respectful to guests. The Big Bend Conservation Alliance acted like a mob of communists, with hissing, booing, catcalls, waving red flags. Ugly mob actions have no place in west Texas. We instill manners at an early age. Two courageous men—Mo Morrow and Homer Mills—were born in Alpine, lived here all their lives, unlike the NIMBYs. everyone is entitled to their opinion, but not to intimidate their opponents.”

The Gazette has contacted members of the Big Bend Conservation Alliance and is awaiting responses.

And, thankfully, member of the BBCA Alyce Santoro posted her eloquent response to the aforementioned story on Facebook, and has given the Gazette permission to reprint it in full here:

So your anonymous source thinks we should welcome the people who have come to take and despoil our land for their own profit? I’ve got a whole bunch news for him or her: it wasn’t just BBCA members who were raising red flags Wednesday night. “Mob of communists”? Oh, PLEASE. Your anonymous source seems to have no idea what it means when RED FLAGS ARE RAISED (I’ll attach a link in case he or she is unclear on this)? You know what really WAS in poor taste? ETP assuming that their contradictory, disingenuous, and outright false “information” belonged in a “respectful and courteous” presentation to members of our community. Taking the recent explosion of a 3-year-old 42″ ETP pipeline in Cuero off the table for discussion was an outrageously bold attempt to play down the risks of their proposed project. In fact, when asked point-blank during the Q&A session if they had balanced the risks of their project against the promised $1 million in ad valorem tax revenue for Brewster County, the answer was “NO. WE DO NOT FACTOR NEGATIVES INTO OUR CALCULATIONS.”

Does your anonymous source have any experience in business, by chance? If so, he or she would understand that when embarking on any business venture, one needs to look at BOTH sides of the balance sheet…not just the profit side…has this “local elected official” done a cost-benefit analysis for Brewster County or the City of Alpine? If he or she has not, then he or she has absolutely no grounds to praise ETP and those two “courageous” local citizens who may stand to profit personally from the pipeline project. What these “courageous” individuals don’t seem to grasp is that while exercising their right to do what, on the surface, may appear to be best for themselves personally in the short term, they are infringing on their neighbors’ rights to health and safety in the long term.

As Monica McBride, Brewster County Republican party chair eloquently stated at yesterday’s BCGWCD meeting (in reference to selling water for commercial purposes, namely the ungodly amounts which would be pumped out of our aquifers by pipeline-related activities), “It’s my well, but it’s not my water.” Rancher Joel Nelson said, “Water doesn’t stop at property lines.”

We live in a community, Anonymous Source. While I have not met many professed communists here, I have met many people from all parts of the political spectrum who understand that certain communitarian values are essential to life in rural west Texas. We help one another. We share what we have. We know what it means to be a “good neighbor”.

Energy Transfer Partners openly admitted on Wednesday night that they internalize their profits and externalize their costs. How is this good business? How is this being a “good neighbor”? If ETP or any elected official would be able to explain truthfully and directly how this project is in the public interest, perhaps there would not be such overwhelming local resistance to it.

The people in the audience on Wednesday night may have been holding small red flags, but we weren’t the ones who were raising them. 

[And Ms. Santoro provided the following link:]

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_flag_%28signal%29

 

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