Noise Ordinance for Pipelines Needed?

It's not enough that Patty McLeod loses sleep over the prospect of a gasoline pipeline running through her neighborhood. Now she has 'round-the-clock construction work on the pipeline to keep her awake at night. At least those were the fears that disrupted her sleep Monday night, after finding a friendly flier hanging on her front door advising her of a 24-hour work schedule, beginning Tuesday. (Full disclosure: McLeod is married to Chronicle "Day Trips" columnist Gerald McLeod.)

Longhorn Partners Pipeline, the corporate venture that's prepping an idle, half-century old pipeline for future use, says it encountered groundwater during part of the pipe replacement process and had to turn to a horizontal drilling method to complete the job. A pipeline crew worked throughout the night Tuesday, but Longhorn spokesman Don Martin says the crew will return to a 12-hour shift, at least for now, because the water has since dissipated.

"They gave us one day's notice," McLeod said Tuesday afternoon. "Nobody had time to prepare for this."

That's more than what the city got. Longhorn apparently hadn't notified city officials, or sought their permission to work 24-7 on the project. This, of course, didn't sit well with John Bedingfield, the assistant city attorney handling the city's pending lawsuit against Longhorn. "We just found out about this this morning," Bendingfield said Wednesday. At that point, city attorneys started a flurry of phone calls to Longhorn lawyers asking them why the company had so brazenly bypassed the city. Municipal ordinances are somewhat hazy on all-night construction projects, but city lawyers were researching the law as the Chronicle went to press.

Martin was doing some research on his own Wednesday morning to determine the company's legal bounds. "Of course, as [U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks] has already ruled we do not need to follow city regulations as this is an interstate pipeline," he noted, "but our intent has been to comply with city rules to the extent possible."

City officials are still chapped about Longhorn's so-called compliance with city rules, given the recent legal row concerning the company's right to perform its construction work without a city permit. Judge Sparks rather reluctantly ruled for Longhorn because the company had the blessing of federal agencies, which effectively rendered city rules moot on the pipeline issue.

The Longhorn crew is currently replacing parts of the pipeline in far South Austin, starting just east of Manchaca Road, running west about 2,400 feet and stopping just shy of the homes along Alabama Drive, where McLeod lives. While city officials slept unaware, Longhorn workers began tunneling through backyards Tuesday night and into the wee hours Wednesday. McLeod reports: "Once I went to bed [the noise] was annoying but not unbearable. I got up and put on a noisy floor fan and that masked the noise enough to sleep just fine. At least it didn't sound like jackhammers in stereo as I had feared." But she remains skeptical about the logic of working throughout the night. "It's a nuisance and probably not necessary."

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