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The clearing for the pipeline has already begun in Wimberley. This photo is taken at the corner of Ranch Road 12 and Old Oaks Ranch. Photos by John Brown/Big Ingen Media via Wimberley View

Kinder Morgan Pipeline construction cleared

Judge denies injunction clearing way for pipeline construction in Hays County
Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Clearing has already begun on the Permian Highway Pipeline as a District Court Judge denied the request for an injunction over the weekend.

U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman denied the request for an injunction that was the start of a lawsuit filed by Hays County, the Texas Real Estate Advocacy and Defense Coalition and multiple other counties, cities, districts and property owners.

“Because Plaintiffs have failed to show that the potential harm has risen to the level of irreparable harm that would justify granting the extraordinary relief of a (Temporary Restraining Order), this Court denies Plaintiffs’ Application for (Temporary Restraining Order),” the ruling said.

The injunction request was based around the potential impact of construction on Endangered Species. Permits granted by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services last week said the pipeline “is not likely to adversely affect Austin blind salamander and Barton Springs salamander” but “is likely to adversely affect golden-cheeked warbler, Houston toad, and Tobusch fishhook cactus.” The permits require multiple conservation measures such as restricting the time of year certain types of clearing can be done “to the extent practicable.”

“We are pleased with the decision and look forward to continuing construction on this vital infrastructure project,” a statement from Kinder Morgan said. “Throughout its development, we have actively worked with all of our stakeholders to ensure we have the best possible route. These outreach efforts have resulted in nearly 200 route changes to accommodate landowners and address what we have learned in land surveys. As a result of these diligent efforts, we have reached agreements on 100 percent of the right-of-way for this project.

“Kinder Morgan and Permian Highway Pipeline are in full compliance with the Endangered Species Act. We have actively worked with the appropriate state and federal agencies, including those agencies tasked with protecting endangered species.  PHP’s environmental assessments, among other things, comprehensively considered those endangered species that could potentially be affected by the project, and our construction plans have been designed to minimize impacts to those species.  We remain committed to preserving the environment including endangered species, and we have gone above and beyond established requirements to do so.”

The lawsuit will continue; however, the denial of an injunction is a significant blow to the organizations fighting to get the pipeline rerouted around the Hill Country. 

“We aren’t going to give up, but we lost a big battle,” David Baker, executive director of the Wimberley Valley Watershed Association, said.

While the injunction was denied, the court did not rule on the merits of the lawsuit, which was filed on Feb. 5. Construction of the pipeline will be allowed to start while the lawsuit continues the process.

“It is important to understand that the TREAD Coalition and its supporters see a multitude of problems, both legal and scientific, with the route that Kinder Morgan has chosen through the Hill Country,” a statement from the TREAD Coalition said. “The Endangered Species Act is only one small part of the problem. It just happened to be the one most immediately triggered by the imminent threat to endangered species caused by Kinder Morgan’s plans to begin clearing activities.

“Texans deserve a public process, at both the state and federal levels, to weigh the value of the PHP against the impacts on our land and communities.  Before irreversible harm is done to our beautiful Hill Country landscape, the safety of our families, our economic plans, the environment and our aquifers, the public should be brought into the process and allowed to scrutinize the science and offer their valuable perspectives and insights.  The final routing decision should be made by public officials accountable to all the citizens of Texas.  Kinder Morgan executives should not have the unilateral power to decide where to build an industrial highway that affects thousands of landowners and dozens of communities.”

Baker said that while he is sad the injunction wasn’t granted, there has still been some success resulting from the fight to reroute the pipeline.

“We have been fighting this for over a year at the watershed association, and it is tragic and unfortunate this is going forward, but I am proud we were able to get Kinder Morgan to commit to only natural gas in this line,” Baker said. “Through our efforts, they agreed to change their contracts to read ‘only natural gas’ and that is much more protective of the aquifer than if they would have had the ability to put liquid hydrocarbons (like crude oil) in it. Our attorneys say that was unprecedented.”

Kinder Morgan was officially allowed to begin clearing for the project in Hays County on Saturday morning.

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