Naked City

Austin Stories

Strange legislative bedfellows are lying in the path of the Longhorn Pipeline. A Monday press conference at the Capitol brought together liberal Austin Democratic Reps. Ann Kitchen, Glen Maxey, and their Houston counterpart Sylvester Turner in an unlikely coalition with conservative Republicans Rick Green of Dripping Springs and Harvey Hilderbran of Kerrville (who could not attend). Moderate Dem Robbie Cook of Eagle Lake also joined the legislators, whom a grinning Green introduced as "my right-wing conservative friends." The occasion: Kitchen's announcement of her "Converted Pipelines Safety Act" -- two bills that would make it harder for Longhorn Pipeline Partners to convert their 50-year-old crude oil pipeline to transport gasoline. HB1857 would require a Railroad Commission public hearing and written permission from every local jurisdiction crossed by the pipeline; HB1858 would require a company converting its pipeline to buy $2 billion in liability insurance. Kitchen described Longhorn's plans as "unprecedented, risky, and dangerous," and her bills as an attempt to "increase the state's power to protect citizens from converted use pipelines, such as the Longhorn pipeline."

Green joked he must be in the wrong place -- he had been looking for the meeting of "the great right-wing conspiracy" -- and later mugged for a photo with Turner, who laughed and said there is no one in the Legislature "more conservative than me." The reps called their opposition to the pipeline a "public safety" issue, and said they were working in concert to protect their communities and the region's drinking water. Maxey recalled the precedent of the East Austin tank farms -- where leaking gasoline polluted groundwater supplies and left lasting health effects -- and said that anybody who has household experience with old plumbing should be wary of Longhorn's assurances that the pipeline can be easily and safely retrofitted for gasoline…

Last week's announcement that Austin-based Green Mountain Energy would begin selling power to some 400,000 Ohio residents next September was widely heralded as the biggest "green" energy deal in U.S. history. But the agreement, which will make Green Mountain the largest such provider in the country, was received less than gleefully by some local environmental activists, who point out that for all its claims of environmental responsibility, Green Mountain's primary power source is non-renewable natural gas, not solar, wind, or biomass, as its corporate communications suggest. In Ohio, according to business news site LocalBusiness.com, 98% of the electricity Green Mountain provides will come from gas, with wind, solar, and geothermal energy filling out the remainder.

Enviros also point out that Green Mountain -- founded by billionaire Bush supporters Sam and Evan Wyly, who donated almost a quarter-million dollars to Bush's presidential effort -- is partly owned by BP Amoco, a member of the Longhorn Pipeline Partners. Talk of a Texas boycott against Green Mountain, akin to a nationwide boycott orchestrated by a dozen loosely affiliated environmental groups, has begun brewing locally, with the anti-Longhorn PIPE Coalition leading the charge. Already, a handful of green-energy electric providers have expressed interest in competing in the deregulated market in Texas, which would give Texans plenty of greener choices than Green Mountain or TXU. The PIPE folks have also urged Green Mountain to pressure BP to divest its interest in the pipeline; so far, Green Mountain has declared neutrality on the subject. Intel -- an investor in another pipeline partner, ExxonMobil -- has also come under scrutiny from pipeline opponents; Sir John Browne, BP's CEO, was elected to Intel's board in 1997.

This isn't the first time Green Mountain has stepped on the toes of enviros in Austin -- just last September, the company moved its corporate headquarters from Vermont to Barton Creek Plaza, incensing environmentalists by locating smack on top of the aquifer. The company paid the Hill Country Conservancy $20,000 in restitution for the blunder…

Longtime Austin American-Statesman reporter Ben Wear is headed for Washington, D.C., to join wife Gail Randall, a former speechwriter for George W. Bush who now works in the president's communications office. Wear had served as assistant metro editor for about a year before returning to reporting last year when Bush's presidency (and Randall's move to the Beltway) started looking more and more likely. One of the best City Hall scribes to come along at the paper, Wear wasn't afraid to ask tough questions of city officials. He frequently raised the hackles of Mayor Kirk Watson, prompting Watson to lodge complaints with Statesman higher-ups. Wear said on Monday that he was "looking for work" in D.C. but didn't have anything lined up just yet; Tuesday was his last day on the Statesman's payroll…

Say it ain't so, Larry. News that former mayoral aide and GetHeard.org co-founder Larry Warshaw was arrested last week in Illinois and charged with soliciting a child for sex over the Internet had his friends and former co-workers reduced to stunned silence late last week, as the details of his arrest began to circulate. Warshaw, 31, was arrested in a Denny's parking lot in Waterloo, Illinois, last Monday, by an undercover police officer who had posed in an Internet chat room as a 15-year-old girl. For now, Warshaw's friends are withholding judgment, pointing out that until the facts are out, he should be considered innocent. "I think it's really important, without having any solid information, not to jump to any conclusions," says Jason Fellman, founder of Web design firm FG Squared and co-founder of GetHeard. Others say that, guilty or not, Warshaw was at the very least a victim of an overzealous police department -- and of sex crime laws that let police officers entrap suspects by misleading them about the officers' identities. Richard Arellano, former aide to Council Member Jackie Goodman and another GetHeard alum, says Warshaw "has been a good friend, and I don't know what the police are saying about him, but my friendship for him stands and I'm going to leave the matter a personal one for him"…

While we're on the subject of GetHeard.org, you may be wondering why the site, which bills itself as an up-to-the-minute online information service and a forum for discussion by citizens of every political stripe, hasn't been updated since before George W. became president. The problem: A lagging effort to raise $275,000, which Arellano -- until December the organization's only paid employee -- says GetHeard needed for the site's big post-election launch. As tech dollars poured into light rail and the funding pool for new ventures dwindled, GetHeard stumbled along on a budget of about $30,000 -- Arellano's salary. With that, they built what Arellano calls "a really good business plan and a foundation for fundraising," along with a Web page that included a detailed virtual ballot, election news, and online voter registration. Today, GetHeard is still seeking funding. "I'd love to see it come back. I think it has incredible potential," says Arellano. But, he adds, "money seems to be the determining factor, beyond all good intentions." According to Fellman, we should see signs of life on the site some time in June…

City attorney Andy Martin, for 11 years the city's resident expert on all things related to Hyde Park Baptist, is off the case. Martin last week recused himself from advising the City Council on matters relating to the church, whose proposed parking garage is heading to council in the next couple of weeks. Eleven years ago, Martin played a key role in shepherding negotiations between HPBC and Hyde Park residents and drafting the land use agreement that's now at the heart of the controversy between the church and its neighbors. With the issue heating up again, Martin says, he worries that "if this ends up in litigation, I might be a fact witness" due to his participation in 1990 discussions. He says Assistant City Attorney Marty Terry will take over HPBC duties from now on…

Just don't call it a charrette. The Neighborhood Academy and Austin Parks Foundation will kick off a series of free public workshops on Saturday, Feb. 24, with a double-billed seminar: "Why Parks Are Important to Austin," with Council Member Beverly Griffith doing guest-speaker duties, from 10am to noon, and "Park Players: Processes and Relationships," with Parks and Rec's Sarah Campbell and former City Council Member Bill Spelman, from 1-4pm. For more on the workshop, which takes place at ACC Eastview, 3401 Webberville, call the Neighborhood Academy at 499-7671 or go to www.ci.austin.tx.us/ons/naschedule.htm.

-- Contributors: Michael King, Amy Smith

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Longhorn Pipeline, Ann Kitchen, Glen Maxey, Sylvester Turner, Rick Green, Robbie Cook, Harvey Hildebran, Green Mountain Energy, PIPE Coalition, BP Amoco, green energy, Intel, John Browne, Ben Wear, Gail Randall, Kirk Watson, Larry Warshaw, Jason Fellman, Richard Arellano, G

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