background image
Page 117
A History of Austin's Newest General Aviation Airport
W. H
Chapter 6
of soil on top of it. That was a long time ago,
and who knows how much earth had since
washed into some nearby stock pond.
Five years later, on January 14, 1969, the
pipeline company offered Ray and Mary
Harding $127 for another easement to run
a second pipeline parallel to the first and ex-
tend the width of the existing easement by 10
feet. One hundred and twenty-seven dollars
was nothing to sneeze at in the late sixties
and Ray and Mary pocketed the cash, then
told Lone Star Gas to have at it.
I noticed two things about the easement
agreement: 1) the pipeline company was re-
quired to grant me a domestic tap, and 2) At-
mos Energy was required to maintain not less
than 42 inches of cover over the pipeline.
A domestic tap basically meant that the
easement grantor was allowed to tap into the
natural gas pipeline for domestic use--hot
water heating and gas ovens and clothes dry-
ers and other appliances. This was a moot
point given that I didn't live on the property.
Nonetheless, I understood the language to
mean that if I wanted I would pay for the me-
ter, saddle, and labor to install the tap, and At-
mos Energy would pay for everything else. At
the same time, I wondered if a high-pressure
line was capable of being tapped at all. And if
not, might this be an element of leverage for
future negotiations?
If a measurement showed less than three
and a half feet of cover, could the company
simply come in with a dozer and pile more
dirt on top, producing a berm running across
my property? Or were they required to lower
the pipeline in such a way as to maintain the
required depth from the existing grade? In
the end 42 inches of cover was the least of my
The Cost of Not
Having a Choice
When Frank McIllwain told his contact at
Atmos Energy that we planned to build a jet
runway, a survey crew quickly appeared at
the airport for a look around. Then in Sep-
tember 2007 Frank received what Atmos En-
ergy called a "ballpark" estimate to relocate
750 linear feet of 20-inch pipe and the same
length of 30-inch pipe. The estimate was $2.2
million. My experience in Houston was that
lowering a 1,200-foot length of natural-gas
pipe cost me around $200,000. In Austin the
price tag was more than ten times that.
According to Atmos Energy, if I wanted to
get started, I could write a check for $2.2 mil-
lion and engineers at the company would order
up a batch of official surveys, draft construc-
tion drawings, solicit bids from contractors
to perform the excavation, and schedule the
pipeline to be shut off somewhere upstream.
On the other hand, if I wanted a formal cost
estimate (as opposed to the ballpark) I had to
come up with $326,000 to cover the expense
of surveys and engineering. No matter how
you cut it, digging up the old pipe and bury-
ing it eight feet or so deeper was going to cost
me a bundle.
When I calmed myself enough to examine
the ballpark estimate, several things jumped
out at me. First, I tallied around $1.1 mil-