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Alpine Resolution Opposing The Trans-Pecos Pipeline Dies Before A Vote

Big Bend area residents leave an Alpine City Council meeting on Tuesday after a resolution to oppose the Trans-Pecos Pipeline dies before getting to a vote. (Travis Bubenik / KRTS)

A proposed Alpine City Council resolution opposing a planned 143-mile natural gas pipeline from the Permian Basin to Mexico died before getting to a vote at a Tuesday meeting.

The resolution would’ve been mostly a symbolic gesture, as it didn’t call for any specific actions, but it would have acknowledged the council was opposed to the Trans-Pecos Pipeline and “any and all activities” related to it.

There as a motion for a vote from council member Julian Gonzales, but no second from the rest of council, so the resolution stopped there.

Disappointed sighs were heard as area residents left the meeting after the resolution fell short.

Council member Jim Fitzgerald said he couldn’t support the resolution as written, mainly because he felt it was poorly worded.

“All you gotta do is read the thing and you can find out that it wasn’t done by a professional,” Fitzgerald said. “I see resolutions all the time, and that wasn’t done properly.”

Fitzgerald said he was also worried the resolution could’ve implied the city needed to end its water sales to Pumpco, Inc. - the contractor preparing to build the pipeline.

“We sell water, there’s an ordinance that we sell water,” he said. “If we don’t sell water to Pumpco, but we sell water to this guy over here, we’re opening ourselves up to a lawsuit.”

Gonzales said he was surprised to see the resolution die so quickly, without any discussion.

“Because I had a lot of my constituents that were worried about it, and they wanted me to represent them and say this is what we’re going to do,” he said.

“It’s not going to create jobs for the city, and it could be a hazard.”

Alpine Mayor Avinash Rangra put the resolution on Tuesday’s agenda. Though the council didn’t discuss it, Rangra did delivery a lengthy speech expressing a number of serious safety concerns and questions he still has about the pipeline, mainly focusing on the risks of a leak.

“What procedure we will have [sic] to detect any leakage?” he asked. “And if there’s a fire, are we fully equipped to handle that?”

Rangra hasn’t said much publicly about the pipeline, but his stance became clearer on Tuesday.

“Whatever the reason is for building this line, I’m not against that per se, I want to be very frank,” he told residents. “But there’s a lack of information.”

While elected officials in Alpine and Brewster County have been relatively tame in expressing concerns about the pipeline, that hasn’t been the case with some area residents.

Environmentalists, ranchers and landowners alike have teamed up with the Big Bend Conservation Alliance (BBCA) to fight the pipeline.

Brewster County rancher Joel Nelson said he was “dismayed” at the outcome of the resolution.

“The Alpine City Council failed to listen to the voice of the people,” he said.

“We have a ranch just northeast of Alpine, and one mile of us would be crossed by the pipeline if it happens, and another two miles that we lease for grazing would be crossed by the pipeline. The fight’s not over.”

“This doesn’t change anything about the legal front,” said lawyer Steve Anderson, general counsel for the BBCA.

Opponents have been consulting with legal experts and getting together a team of lawyers in the event Energy Transfer decides to invoke eminent domain to condemn land for the project. The company says that’s a “very last resort,” and that it’s rarely had to resort to legal action, but it’s not unheard of.

“I’m carrying on talking with attorneys throughout the state,” Anderson said.

So far, the issue hasn’t made it into the courts, and Energy Transfer is carrying on, too.

The company has applied for a required Presidential Permit for the last stretches of the pipeline on the border that would connect with another pipeline on the Mexican side.

When asked if he would consider trying to get a similar resolution in front of the council at a later date, Gonzales said he'll "have to think about that."

Travis Bubenik is All Things Considered Host and Big Bend Reporter at Marfa Public Radio.