Naked City

Pipeline Rules Too Weak?

The city's first draft of a pipeline safety ordinance is a good start, but it needs more teeth to ensure the community's protection in the event of an accident. That's the verdict of the city Environmental Board, after a unanimous vote last week, and of the Save Barton Creek Association and Safe Pipeline Coalition in resolutions passed Monday night. The Planning Commission was set to vote on its recommendation Wednesday as the Chronicle went to press.

The heaviest public critique has centered on the proposed distance between pipelines and new buildings. The Environmental Board recommends increasing the proposed 10-foot "restricted pipeline area" to 25 feet from the edge of a pipeline easement, increasing setbacks in "high-consequence" areas (primary schools, hospitals, day care centers, etc.) from 200 feet to 500 feet, and added secondary schools to the list. The SBCA and the SPC went a step further, endorsing a 1,000-foot setback for the same land uses.

The recommendations are based in large measure on an environmental assessment of the proposed Longhorn Pipeline, which Radian Corp. conducted as part of a legal agreement between the city (which is still challenging the line), Longhorn, and the Environmental Protection Agency. The Radian report raises several safety concerns, including a "predicted impact distance of 921 feet from the pipeline" if a flash fire were to erupt in a heavily populated area. The Longhorn Pipeline, which has yet to begin operation due to funding problems, is authorized to carry gasoline from Houston to El Paso through densely populated areas of Austin.

Ironically, some of the more outspoken opponents to the restricted-use areas are not developers, but homeowners who say the ordinance will dash any dreams of add-ons. The restrictions would make such projects cost-prohibitive, or forbid them altogether, they say.

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