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Addressing Concerns from Big Bend Residents, Alpine Council Passes Pipeline Measures

The Alpine City Council at a regular meeting on June 17, 2015 (Katherine Rae Mondo / KRTS)

The Alpine City Council passed two measures related to the Trans-Pecos Pipeline on Tuesday: one a strongly-worded move against the pipeline, the other a more reserved effort to have the pipeline built under stricter safety standards than what's currently required.

In a 3-2 vote, the council gave Mayor Avinash Rangra permission to ask the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to deny a presidential permit for the project.

That’s the government approval the pipeline needs to connect at the U.S.-Mexico border with another pipeline stretching from the Mexican side.

A previous anti-pipeline proposal from Rangra died before getting to a vote at the council’s last meeting, and for a moment it appeared this second measure would also die.

People in the audience pleaded with the council after member Julian Gonzales’ motion for a vote was met with silence from the rest of the council.

“Please, please!” one person cried out. “Come on!” said others.

Though she expressed some reservations, council member Cynthia Salas eventually seconded the motion, bringing it to a vote. It passed, with Rick Stephens and Jim Fitzgerald voting against.

Rangra's letter to FERC will have to be approved by the city council before it's submitted.

“City of Alpine, through its council, has spoken against [the pipeline],” Rangra said, adding that he’s been more outspoken against the project since 23rd District Congressman Will Hurd and his predecessor Pete Gallego weighed in on the issue.

“I believe that when these two gentlemen and other leaders speak on issues that concern us, then we as a city council need to think a little bit more seriously and positively to support them,” Rangra said.

Hurd has expressed concerns about a “lack of transparency” from Dallas-based Energy Transfer, the company behind the pipeline, and recently described the company as "unfortunately vague" on the details of its plan.

In a letter sent to FERC earlier this month, the congressman stopped short of calling for the pipeline to be stopped, but criticized Energy Transfer for providing "cursory responses" to a series of questions about the project.

Hurd called on FERC to "thoroughly review [the company]'s assertion that the proposed Pipeline is in the public interest before making its final determination" on the presidential permit.

"I understand the importance of infrastructure projects to our energy security," he said, "but also recognize the need for federal agencies to fulfill their regulatory obligations in an efficient, thorough and thoughtful manner."

Also passed on Tuesday was a resolution from council member Rick Stephens that seeks to have the pipeline built under stricter federal safety standards.

While Stephens said he’s in favor of having the pipeline built as safely as possible, he doesn’t think it’s within the city’s purview to decide whether or not it should be built in the first place.

“I personally don’t believe that we in Alpine nor Brewster County are going to be successful in impacting one way or the other whether the pipeline is built or not,” he said before the vote on his resolution, adding that he's heard from supporters and opponents in the area.

"The intent behind this resolution is not to prejudice that discussion one way or the other," he said. "But in the event the pipeline is built, I do believe it’s in our best interest to ensure it’s built to the highest level of standards today."

Lori Glover, with the Big Bend Conservation Alliance, described the outcome of the meeting as a victory for pipeline opponents.

“I feel like we’ve made some progress here tonight, and every single day I get more people who tell me that they’re against it,” she said.

- Katherine Rae Mondo contributed reporting from Alpine. 

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