BREWSTER COUNTY, TX (KWES) - Land disputes involving the Trans-Pecos Pipeline have made their way to district court.
At least 12 eminent domain lawsuits have been filed in Brewster and Presidio counties by the company behind the planned 143-mile, 42-inch natural gas pipeline.
Under eminent domain, the government can seize private land for public use, provided the property owner is compensated at "fair market value," explained Steve Anderson, an Alpine-based attorney and member of the Big Bend Conservation Alliance (BBCA).
However, he questioned the validity of the pending eminent domain petitions, as well as the "public good" touted by pipeline developers at Energy Transfer Partners, LLC.
"[I feel] the only purpose for [constructing the Trans-Pecos Pipeline] was to sell natural gas to Mexico," Anderson said. "No one has ever attempted to use eminent domain to build a pipeline across Texas that is not going to give any petroleum product to any Texans."
Lisa Dillinger, a pipeline spokesperson at Granado Communications Group, said the company backing the project resorted to filing suit after Big Bend landowners failed to accept proposed property access deals.
"This is part of the process as we move forward with securing the necessary easement agreements for the Trans-Pecos Pipeline," she said in an emailed statement. "While our first priority is to negotiate a voluntary easement agreement, we do have legal options available when this is not possible. Historically, as a company, we have successfully reached voluntary easement agreements with more than 90% of landowners throughout the country. That percentage is even higher on the pipeline projects we have done Texas."
The Trans-Pecos Pipeline was declared a "public utility" by the Texas Railroad Commission following a standard approval process that required no investigation into the project, Anderson explained.
"Because of the presumption that [Energy Transfer Partners, LLC has] eminent domain, they are allowed to proceed with digging the trench and building the pipeline," he said.
The pending eminent domain suits may allow the company to initiate construction on property still legally held by private owners, according to Anderson, while defendants could be forced to wait until after officials complete land valuation procedures to respond in court.
"You feel like a human being down here," he said of his own decision to purchase land in Alpine in the 1980s. "It scares me to think about what the pipeline is going to do to this place."