Sergio Chapa | Houston Chronicle | June 26, 2019
A state district court judge has tossed out a lawsuit that sought to stop a Kinder Morgan pipeline from being routed through the Texas Hill Country.
In a Tuesday afternoon decision, Judge Lora Livingston with the 261st State District Court in Austin dismissed all claims made against the Permian Highway Pipeline, a $2 billion project to move 2.1 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day from the Permian Basin of West Texas to the Katy Hub near Houston.
Two landowners, a trust, the City of Kyle and Hays County sued Kinder Morgan, one of its subsidiaries, the Railroad Commission of Texas and five agency executives over the 423-mile pipeline in April.
Livingston heard testimony from both sides of the case during a two-day hearing in late May. After nearly four weeks of reviewing evidence and testimony, the judge sided with Kinder Morgan and the Railroad Commission. In a statement, Kinder President of Natural Gas Pipelines Tom Martin said the company was pleased with the ruling.
"The court's finding validates the process established in Texas for the development of natural gas utility projects, as well as the steps we have taken to comply with that process," Martin said. "We will continue to engage all stakeholders as we work to complete PHP."
The Texas Real Estate Advocacy and Defense Coalition, a landowner rights group that paid the legal fees for the lawsuit, issued a statement saying that the group respects the judge's ruling but disagrees with it.
"We continue to believe the Texas constitution does not allow for the delegation of this awesome power to a private company without oversight," the group said. "This issue should be heard by an appellate court. We are weighing our options for an appeal and planning additional legal actions in other venues to challenge this severely problematic route."
During the hearing, Kyle Mayor Travis Mitchell testified that the pipeline's proposed route would go through several future subdivisions where developers plan to build as many as 20,000 homes. The city he said, already spent millions of dollars adding water, sewage and electrical services to those sites.
"All of this could have been avoided if Kinder Morgan had to follow the most basic outreach efforts that the City of Kyle and utility companies have to follow," Mitchell told the Chronicle in May.
Kinder Morgan has maintained throughout the legal battle that the pipeline route was carefully chosen to impact the fewest number of landowners. The company said it held public meetings in Kyle and other cities before moving forward with the project.
Under Texas state law, pipelines require a 50-foot easement that must be kept clear. Kinder Morgan designed the proposed pipeline route to include a 600-foot-wide corridor that allows for some flexibility and adjustments.
The company contends the pipeline will generate nearly $1 billion annually to state and county governments and will unlock production bottlenecks in the Permian Basin — allowing leaseholders to earn more than $2 billion in annual royalties.