Landowner ready to fight pipeline

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By MIKE EDDLEMAN

On a quiet 50 acres north of Liberty Hill, Travis Redding walks a special portion of his property trying to make sense of the prospect of losing it.

“My kids call this Fairy Forest and over there is Comanche Camp,” he said, pointing to a large stand of live oak trees stretching to the west. “This all gets wiped out, so we’re not happy about it. There were some sad faces when (our kids) heard mom and dad talking about this.”

What may replace the trees is an oil pipeline tentatively planned by Enterprise Products Partners LP, a pipeline construction company in Houston.

Only a few months after the family purchased the ranch land just west of where CR 200 dead ends into CR 236, Redding received some disturbing mail.

The letter from Enterprise Products arrived at the end of April requesting access to the property for survey purposes as part of route development for the potential new pipeline. It included a map, survey access form, self-addressed stamped envelope and a Texas Landowner’s Bill of Rights.

A few phone calls and a meeting later, Redding has yet to give permission to survey on his property.

“There were some tears at our house because it’s one thing to get a phone call, but to get a letter that says someone’s going to bring a pipeline through your land is hard to understand,” Redding said.

The pipeline is slated to be 571 miles long, passing through 17 counties from Midland to Harris County near the coast. Redding said he has learned it is to be a 42-inch oil pipeline and requires a 110-foot easement that is anticipated to run parallel to an existing easement for power lines through that forested southwest corner of his property, where he says his family camps and his children spend their time playing.

The easement amounts to about two of Redding’s 50 acres, he said, but the issue goes beyond those two acres.

“It is about the devaluation of the whole 50 acres,” he said. “If they put this pipeline in and we try to sell it, how low is the price going to have to be for someone to want to live next to a pipeline that size? If there ever is a leak anywhere, people will never want to live near it.”

The loss of trees and potential value of his own property is only part of the issue for Redding, whose land sits on top of the Edwards Aquifer contributing and recharge zone.

“In a few years we’ll get over it, maybe the kids will forget the trees, but we still have to worry about a spill, and everyone on down has to worry about a spill,” he said. “The trees and the land grab are kind of a personal issue, but I would think people in general should be alarmed that a corporation can at will take your property, and the water issue is one for everyone to think about.”

A recent core sample on the property conducted in preparation for his new home construction revealed a foot of soil, and crushed packed limestone for 15 feet until bedrock is reached.

“That chalk was wet all the way through,” Redding said. “That drains down and sideways, so if there is a leak from the pipe itself or if someone hits it with a piece of equipment you are polluting the aquifer. It seems like a bad place to put a pipeline.”

Everyone living in the unincorporated area northwest of Liberty Hill is on a well, and there are springs in the path of the proposed easement.

Redding has a small spring on his property near the proposed path of the pipeline, and his two neighbors to the west each also have a spring, the one on Pat Ellet’s property being the largest.

The Ellett family has been on their land since 1964 and Pat told Redding in times of extreme drought her spring has been the only water source in the area.

“It’s our land, it’s our trees, it’s our property and it’s not for sale,” Redding said of his personal agenda on the issue. “But as soon as we figured out the size of the pipe and that it’s crude oil coming from Midland, that’s when the alarms went off for me. It’s a bigger picture because it is everybody’s drinking water.”

As Redding began studying up on how to fight the potential project, he was surprised to learn that there is little recourse for landowners when it comes to pipeline projects.

“These guys have the eminent domain rights,” Redding said. “Apparently it is pretty easy. You and I could make our own LLC and start making deals.”

According to Texas Railroad Commission spokesperson Ramona Nye and the RRC website, the RRC “does not have any authority or jurisdiction over the siting or routing of a planned pipeline nor does the Commission have authority or jurisdiction over a common carrier pipeline’s exercise of its statutory right of eminent domain. The Commission’s role is to ensure operators of intrastate pipelines that begin and end in Texas construct, operate and maintain their pipelines in compliance with RRC pipeline safety rules…”

The law, according to Redding, is on the side of the company.

“It doesn’t seem like the Legislature is doing anything for us,” Redding said. “Even the eminent domain lawyers will tell you the fight is about getting restitution, not about keeping them from taking the land. It doesn’t seem like they should be able to just take your land.”

He wishes there were laws about more than compensation meant to protect property owners.

“Unfortunately most of the fight is to make sure they aren’t low-balling landowners and they are giving landowners the right value for the land,” Redding said. “But what if I don’t want them to take down my trees here? I don’t need the money. I don’t want to have to keep checking my water for petroleum.”

Redding said no one associated with the company has been very open with information so far, and he and his neighbors have begun to piece together information together from little bits each one has.

When Redding declined by phone to allow access, and indicated he may not allow access, the tone changed in the conversation.

“This is before I really understood they had the power to do whatever they wanted and it’s not up to me,” Redding said. “The first thing he said was ‘Let me tell you what’s going to happen next. I’m going to send this over to our lawyers and they’ll be contacting you.’”

Representatives from Enterprise Products have not returned calls to The Independent for comment or provided more information on the proposed project.

The claim that such a project is beneficial for everyone is not one Redding likes to hear about.

“The ridiculousness of the situation is it’s all housed in an argument that it is for the greater good,” Redding said. “We all use oil and petroleum, and it creates all those jobs out in Midland and you don’t want to take away jobs from all those guys. I’m not trying to put them out of work. There doesn’t have to be a pipeline at all. There’s lots of different ways to get that oil from there to there.

“I get the argument that there’s all this oil in Midland and it’s contributing to the economy and we’ve got to get this oil to port, but they are massively profitable right now. They can truck it, or they can go through areas that aren’t environmentally sensitive. There should be some kind of legislation, but I am finding there is nothing that keeps them from taking anything they want in the name of a pipeline.”

It may be an uphill battle, and one Redding has admitted he probably can’t win on his own, but he says he is ready to fight it however he can.

“They haven’t made up their mind, and that’s where we’re at right now,” Redding said. “That’s why I’m trying to get the word out because now we have a chance to redirect this. If they’re going to do this, they’re going to do it in the light. They’re not going to get away with doing it under the cover of darkness making deals and not telling anybody about it. We have to let everybody know.”

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