In the rolling countryside surrounding his home, Charles Crook said he feels miles away from the city.
“It’s quiet,” Crook said. “It’s wonderful. It’s out in the country. It is out in the middle of nowhere, but it’s 10 minutes away from everything.”
But Crook and his neighbors, who live just outside Mansfield, are worried that their tranquil way of life may soon change.
The Tarrant Regional Water District has identified a section of Crook’s property as a route for a pipeline that will connect to a $2.3 billion project to bring more water to Dallas-Fort Worth from East Texas.
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Under the plan, the pipeline would come within 100 feet of his house on Gibson Cemetery Road, about a mile outside Mansfield.
Crook doesn’t dispute that the water is needed — he said he supports the project — but he contends that the water district could have chosen a route with less impact on the semirural neighborhood.
Over the last four years, Crook, a civil engineer, proposed a route that would take the pipeline farther west through a gravel pit. He said his plan would affect 16 properties, compared with 34 under the district’s plan.
“We’re asking them to look one more time,” Crook said. “I don’t think we’re asking them to go somewhere that’s inappropriate.”
A costlier option
The 149-mile Integrated Pipeline Project is considered one of the largest water projects now being undertaken in the U.S. It is designed to bring water from East Texas reservoirs to Tarrant County and Dallas, helping supply the growing region with water into the 2030s.
The section that affects Crook and his neighbors could be let for construction as early as March 2016, but that date may be pushed back. The water district has said this section needs to be up and running by 2020.
At Tuesday’s water district meeting, Crook made a last-ditch appeal, asking the water board to conduct an environmental impact study on his alternative route.
But district officials said that they have reviewed Crook’s suggestion multiple times and that it would cost nearly $1 million more. The portion of pipeline in the Mansfield area will connect to the Kennedale Balancing Reservoir.
“I think we’re going to proceed on this as being the best route,” said David Marshall, the district’s director of engineering and operational support.
District spokesman Chad Lorance said other options were considered.
“We evaluated several alternative routes early on, including one that was very similar to Mr. Crook’s proposed route,” Lorance said. “It was communicated to Mr. Crook at that time that it may be a viable option.
“After careful consideration, we ultimately decided to go with the originally selected route because it scored higher in our evaluation process, which included factors such as cost, environmental impacts, and constructability.”
A Jan. 31 report said Crook’s route is “more costly primarily due to the constraints of installing the pipeline through the open pit gravel mine.”
Marshall said the disturbed soil at the gravel pit poses a number of unknown costs.
“Soft soils can dramatically increase the cost of the line,” Marshall said.
He referred to a change order on the Eagle Mountain Lake Connection, a pipeline that brings water to Eagle Mountain Lake. A 400-foot section of unstable soil added $1.4 million to the cost.
“Working in some very fine, soupy soils, you can’t do that with very-large-diameter pipe,” Marshall said.
Crook said his own research shows that building the pipeline through a gravel pit is not a major problem. And he said a more detailed environmental study would show the costs for his route aren’t higher.
“They’re scrambling all they can to show my proposal is more expensive,” Crook said. “… Our research has shown the soils are identical.”
Property, safety concerns
At the district’s October meeting, Crook wasn’t alone in expressing frustration over the project.
His neighbor Ted McElvain, who owns 7 acres and operates a business from his home, said he worries what the pipeline would do to his property.
“It is apparent if the alignment is maintained and approved, it would basically render the majority of my land useless because of the odd angles it cuts across my property,” McElvain said.
John Sessions, the owner of a pecan orchard across from Crook’s property, said at the October board meeting that he was told that “the value of mature trees is practically zero.” He said the pipeline would “literally destroy the future use of so many properties” and prevent him from ever developing his property.
But at Tuesday’s board meeting, district staffers showed photos of subdivisions and farms where buried pipelines are nearly invisible.
While the pipeline may not be obvious, Crook insists there is a danger.
On his property, the 7-foot-diameter steel pipe would be buried 5 feet in the ground.
Crook believes a break in the pipeline would endanger his family.
“You can’t tell me if my child is standing right there when that pipe breaks that it doesn’t pose a danger to them,” Crook said. “You know what would happen with that kind of pressure? It would kill them.”
Marshall, who serves on an American Water Works Association committee for national pipeline standards, said he has found no record of fatalities in the U.S. from water pipeline breaks.
“The risk is very, very small,” he said. “There have been a number of casualties from oil and gas pipelines because of what they carry. There has been water damage from pipeline failures, and there is a potential for water damage for every pipeline.”
Property already bought
Crook still hopes to persuade the board to consider his route.
He spoke with board member Mary Kelleher after Tuesday’s meeting, but she said the decision appears final.
“It is my opinion that once TRWD decides to take a property, there is no room for discussion,” Kelleher said. “I asked my fellow board members at the board meeting … to please arrange for a meeting with the Mansfield neighborhood but was told it may not be possible due to possible litigation.”
The water district said 13 of the 30 properties needed for the section of pipeline running through Crook’s property have been bought without the use of condemnation.
The water district has been embroiled in another legal battle over a section of pipeline running through Dallas hotelier Monty Bennett’s ranch in Henderson County. Bennett has sued the water district, claiming it violated the Texas Open Meetings Act when it approved some sections of the pipeline. And the district has started eminent domain proceedings on that property.
Overall, the district said, 50 percent of the land has already been bought for the entire 149-mile pipeline, with eminent domain used on less than 5 percent of the necessary property. Where eminent domain proceedings began, 43 percent of the property owners eventually settled, the district said.
That does little to ease Crook’s concerns about the way he and his neighbors have been treated.
“It’s really ruined a lot of people’s plans for the future,” Crook said. “ …As far as I’m concerned, if they put that pipeline there, my wife and I and my children will move — and we’ve told them that.”