Did Dallas City Council Just Put the City's Water Supply at Risk For $1,600?

Categories: City Hall

Amy Silverstein
The Seaway Pipeline under construction in Kaufman County.
Few people on the Dallas City Council seemed to be aware that the city owns over 21,000 square feet of land in Kaufman County until Wednesday, the day the land was up for sale.

"I do not even know why we own that property, frankly," councilman Philip Kingston tells Unfair Park.

As it turns out, that land has been helping the city get water. The Dallas Water Utilities owns raw water pipelines that run through area, carrying water here from Lake Tawakoni. But soon, Dallas will share that land with a pipeline that is expected to carry an especially controversial type of crude oil -- the heavy tar sands from Canada, and same stuff that's the subject of a national debate with the Keystone Pipeline.

The City Council voted 8 to 6 on Wednesday to give a company called Seaway Crude Partners an easement to build its own pipeline on a portion of the land. Not for free, of course. Dallas isn't a land slut. The council agreed to the easement for a grand total of $1,679.

The measure had never been discussed publicly in any Dallas committee meeting before, so no one understood why the price was so low. A few council members, including Kingston, seemed concerned about the potential environmental risks and the deal.

They turned their questions to Dallas Water Utilities Director Jody Puckett, who did not have very many answers.

"Jody, this is the one that we think does have the tar sands oil in it, right?" Kingston asked Puckett during the meeting.

"The information I have is, this is described as a crude pipeline," she responded.

Not quite. Environmentalists say that the crude oil coming from Canada's tar sands is rougher and heavier than typical crude, and more difficult to clean up in the event of a spill.

"It's not the same animal as South America crude," says Rita Beving, a local organizer for Public Citizen, a non-profit group that has been fighting the Seaway project. (Seaway disputes this: "The characteristics of Canadian heavy crude oil differ very little from the Venezuelan and Mexican production," the company says).

The Seaway Pipeline has actually been underground since 1976, carrying South American crude from Freeport, Texas to refineries in the Midwest. In 2011, however, the pipeline was bought out by Enbridge and Enterprise to form Seaway Crude Partners, who then changed the route and are now building a 30-inch diameter twin pipeline alongside the original one. It's not the pipeline itself that concerns environmentalists, it's tar sands that will probably go through it, as Kingston briefly mentioned in the meeting.

(National Resources Defense Council's stance is that they don't oppose pipelines, "but we do oppose tar sands pipelines.")

Enbridge is reportedly responsible for the costliest oil pipeline spill in US history, when the company spilled 800,000 gallons of Canadian crude into Michigan's Kalamazoo River three and a half years ago. Because the oil was so thick, it sunk to the bottom of the river, making clean up much more difficult. This didn't come up in the meeting.

The EPA ordered Enbridge to do more cleaning, but the company resisted. "The River is now safe and open for public use, " Enbridge responded in a letter obtained by InsideClimateNews.

Given that news, it's understandable that Kingston and others wanted more specifics about what happens if there's a spill on Dallas' land.

"In the event that there's a spill on this land, what is going to be the clean-up cost?" Kingston asked Puckett in the meeting.

"Um, I don't know," Puckett responded.

"Catastrophically higher than $1,600, right?"

"I would expect it would be more than $1,600."

City Manager A.C. Gonzalez clearly wanted the item to just pass already. He assured City Council that he would make sure to address Kingston's concerns later on -- but only on the condition that Council approves the item, first.

"If the item is passed, I've already talked with the city attorney about having us include insurance provisions and some endangerment clause that would protect the city greater than, if it's not already in place," he explained.

Gonzalez added later: "If it's not in there now, if you approve it, I'm going to make sure that it gets in there."

That did not sit well with Carolyn Davis. "Come on y'all, we are elected officials. This is not how business is supposed to go," she said. She asked why they couldn't delay the vote for a little bit. "At least we can see what's in there," she added.

Mayor Rawlings was unmoved by her speech, thanking her then just asking everyone to vote right then. He joined seven others on Council to approve the sale, much to the horror of Public Citizen's Beving.

Beving says she's met with Puckett and other city staff a few times to discuss the pipeline. She doesn't understand why the city agreed to roll over to the company for such a low price

"Did you realize that Seaway directly crosses or is upstream from Lake Lavon, Cedar Creek Reservoir, and Richland Chambers lake -- all DFW water supplies?" Beving later wrote in an email to the Council. "To risk city property, city water, and nearby residents for $1,679 should give someone pause to at least have a discussion prior to this vote."

Meanwhile, that whole insurance thing is still in the works, city spokesman Frank Librio tells Unfair Park.

The pipeline has actually already been under construction in Kaufman County since November, but the company was supposedly holding off on touching the land that Dallas owns until this vote. As for the risk-protection stuff, Seaway spokesman Rick Rainey says that the Dallas City Council has required a clause ensuring that "responsibility for a spill would be Seaway's and not the city's." We're still waiting to see a copy of the actual clause to get more specifics.

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The Mayor was told about Seaway (as I was in the meeting) , and so was Jody Puckett who was at the dias re: Seaway in a personal meeting with me at her office in Feb. 2012 and at the Region C water planning group meeting (2012) who replied that they would basically deal with it when it spilled.  Enbridge has now cost roughly $1 BILLION.  That is Billion with a Big Bad B....


I find it interesting that the Davenports(car wash fame) are also embroiled in a Seaway pipeline fight at the same time. Crazy timing.


All the council members that voted yes just follow the money from their contributors and you will see why they sold at such a cheap price.  Dallas is a hub for crooks.

mavdog topcommenter

It appears the easement is 50 ft in width, meaning it will run for a length of just over 400 feet.

in trying to determine the width of this easement I ran across an article about a landowner in Kaufman County who was battling Seaway Crude regarding the amount of compensation they would get for their property.

Those who read the DO know the father and son well from Schutze' writing about their car wash on MLK.

Freddy and Dale Davenport.

Interesing read...http://www.dallasnews.com/news/community-news/collin-county/headlines/20131027-landowner-fights-pipeline-project-in-rural-collin-county.ece


I'm glad to see the new administration embracing the numerous calls for "change" at City Hall.


 The measure had never been discussed publicly in any Dallas committee meeting before

Why do we even have committees, or council members, for that matter? Sounds like the staff is in charge. And works for someone else.


Here's the email I sent the mayor and council:

A couple of days ago, I saw that Agenda Item #21 was on the consent agenda for the construction of the Seaway Pipeline in Kaufman County on City of Dallas owned land at this week's council meeting.
As I watched the proceedings yesterday online, I watched as the item was pulled for discussion by council member Griggs. Not too many people know what the Seaway pipeline
is, or that tar sands is being planned to travel through it. As I watched the council proceedings, it appeared that many on the council didn't either.

With it's final approval yesterday with an 8-6 vote, I am concerned that not only was the matter not fully discussed in a transparent manner, but there may be some on the council who knew exactly
what it was all about.

I have been made aware of the following:

1.  In 2012, Dallas area resident Rita Beving who works with Public Citizen ( a watchdog group) met with Jody Puckett to specifically discuss the forthcoming
     Seaway Pipeline scheduled to carry tar sands from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico through North Texas and close to Dallas.

2.  In the same year, Ms. Beving sat with yourself along with Dallas Sierra Club member Molly Rooke, to discuss potential fracking and related pipeline topics.
     Ms. Rooke and yourself discussed fracking in Dallas. Ms. Beving and yourself discussed the forthcoming Seaway pipeline to North Texas.

3. Ms Beving then met with the Region C Water Planning Group in 2012 and spoke about the Seaway Pipeline and it's travels through Texas. Ms. Puckett is an officer with the Regency Water Planning Group.

4. Construction of the pipeline has been in production as we sit here today leading up to the city owned property, yet that was not made known to the council.

5. The history of the Seaway Pipeline and what it is scheduled to carry was not discussed in a public forum.

6. No public conversations with council or committee meetings were held regarding the history of the Seaway Pipeline, nor what the pipeline is scheduled to carry on city owned property(despite the size of the property)

At the council meeting, there was obviously some confusion as to how the motion should have been made leading up the final vote. Council member Kingston raised a good point that the $1600 land value may pale in comparison to the clean up/environmental costs, should there be an accident. To quickly ask the City Manager to throw in some liability clauses AFTER the vote was taken is not acceptable nor is it good business on any level. But you allowed it.

Even Council member Davis was correct when she stated to you, " this is not how we do business in Dallas, is it?"
I am assuming that the impending lawsuit filed earlier this week by Trinity East Energy was expected, and that it's arrival at City Hall was the impetus to get this Seaway Pipeline quickly approved via the consent agenda.

It appears that the "need for transparency" that has been recited so often in council chambers and in the media with regards to Dallas City Hall business, is as transparent as the tar sands itself.


Sign now, we'll work out the details later...

Gonzalez has met our worst fears. And Rawlings and 7 others chimed in.

Name the scum.


I think Mr. Beving was being a little disingenuous about the pipeline and Dallas' portion of the pipeline.  The portion of the pipeline that sits in Dallas cannot be upstream from Lake Lavon and would only be upstream from Cedar Creek or Richland Chambers, but not both (the Trinity River is in the way).  Obviously, if it breaks, it's a catastrophe.  That's why you include insurance provisions.

RTGolden1 topcommenter

Meet the new boss.

Same as the old boss.

Sounds familiar though, "We won't know what it says until we vote it into law."  This is a horrible trend among the politicos.


"Dallas isn't a land slut."

No, not at all.  Just a cheap, cracked-out, land-prostitute.


What is the linear measurement of the ROW? Is it a few feet, one mile, multiple miles?


@mavdog  Shutze has been asking "why, why why?" on the Davenports.  Maybe to put a little old-fashioned pressure on them?


@MaxNoDifference The last time an Enterprise/Enbridge tar sands pipeline ruptured in Michigan and then again one month later in Illinois, their insurance company set a limit on how much they would pay.  The company barely covered the costs.  The Kalamazoo River is still not clean, despite what Enterprise says. 

TheCredibleHulk topcommenter


Legislation via Jedi Mind Trick does seem to be the new order of the council.


You make it seem that these laws do not or will not work as intended. Maybe that might be the case, but these people are in a position of elected or appointed power, they can do what they want. That's America, amigo.


@Lakewooder  At 21000sqft, that whole lot is only around half an acre.  If it already has pipelines through it, the value of an easement for one more is a pittance.  Like, say, $1,679.


@uppercasematt @Lakewooder  

Sounds like a pretty strong bargaining position:

Agree with our liability clauses or we will force you to reroute your new 540 mile pipeline around our 1/2 acre.


@Gangy @dingo  

Discourage the pipeline by requiring them to reroute it by 1/2 acre? They commonly reroute the pipeline corresponding to the easiest landowners to deal with. They are not restricted to the original easement of the first pipeline.


That being said,  to answer the question posed in the headline...   No.


@dingo It would be a strong position if the City wanted to discourage the  pipeline.  However, it appears the City Manager and the mayor want the pipeline to go through.

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