The proposed Kinder Morgan Sierrita pipeline could cost taxpayers $11.2 million in its first year of operation.
The 59-mile long, 36-inch pipeline, which would extend existing natural gas lines in Tucson to the international border with Mexico just west of Sasabe, would create a new route for smugglers, forcing the county to respond to emergency calls, as well as degrade environmentally sensitive lands in the Altar Valley, County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry argued.
Huckelberry’s 17-page memo, distributed to the Pima County Board of Supervisors earlier this week, outlines a preliminary estimate of both one-time and ongoing costs if the utility is allowed to build the pipeline next summer.
The $11.2 million figure includes increased patrols by the Sheriff’s Department, costs to the medical examiner due to increased migrant deaths using the pipeline road, erosion control for an estimated 210 washes and buying thousands of acres to preserve the threatened Pima pineapple cactus.
After the first year, ongoing costs to maintain county-owned lands impacted by the pipeline would be roughly $1 million annually, Huckelberry suggested.
Richard Wheatley, a spokesperson for Kinder Morgan, said the company is dedicated to an open, constructive and continuing dialogue with various parties involved in the process, but did not have comment related to the memo.
Filings with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission suggest the county would reap millions of dollars in various taxes and fees, but Huckelberry is doubtful that revenue from the pipeline would actually fill county coffers.
Huckelberry cites as an example a filing with the federal commission stating the pipeline would generate $12.4 million in taxable revenues to the state and Pima County.
“It is estimated that the Pima County share of ‘state-shared sales tax’ would be only about $120,000,” Huckelberry wrote.
Citing past experience, he said he is skeptical the company will fully restore the estimated 1,000 acres affected by the pipeline.
“Successful restoration of constructed pipeline routes in the Southwest to their pre-construction condition has proven to be extremely difficult if not impossible,” Huckelberry wrote.
“Other pipelines recently constructed in Pima County by Kinder Morgan remain virtually barren after six years or more of restoration monitoring, and there is little to no confidence that restoration efforts will ever be effective unless there are new standards and obligations set by FERC and local and state government agencies,” he said.
The federal commission, under current laws, lacks the authority to require Kinder Morgan to perform any type of environmental remediation past 100 feet out from the pipeline.
A public meeting discussing remediation was dominated with concerns that efforts to restore the desert would ultimately fail.
“Discussion focused on the inadequacy of the plans, that respondents’ comments have been ignored, the high probability that restoration would fail, that five years of monitoring is grossly inadequate, that monitoring does not mean remediation,” he wrote.
“No other (Kinder Morgan) pipelines have ever been successfully restored, and that there can be no assurances that vehicle traffic, foot traffic, and increased smuggling and trafficking can be prevented,” Huckelberry wrote.
Supervisor Ray Carroll said he wasn’t sure if there is a precedent for a community to be fully reimbursed for impacts from a new pipeline, but he said he favored pursuing a strategy with Kinder Morgan for the full cost of mitigation.
Pima County is not the only local government opposed to the proposed route. The Tohono O’odham Nation objects to the pipeline, believing it could harm up to 60 “sacred and significant” cultural resource sites, including Baboquivari Peak, village sites, trash mounds and quarries.