The Port of Houston Authority commissioners, who manage the public facilities along the Houston Ship Channel, have voted to appeal a January ruling by U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes who ruled that the Port, and not companies, should pay the cost of lowering pipelines to accommodate the deepening of the channel. At least 87 pipelines, containing chemicals, petroleum products and natural gas, may be involved at a cost of $1 million each.

The ruling Jan. 25 calls for the Port to compensate the companies for actual costs, some of which have already been incurred by the companies. The new costs will be in addition to $130 million approved by Houston taxpayers who approved a state-federal project to widen and deepen the channel to accommodate more traffic. Hughes ruled in favor of the pipeline companies under Texas law, granting the companies’ motion for summary judgment and denying the Port.

“We believe Congress clearly specified in 1996 that pipeline owners, not the taxpayers of Harris County, should pay for the removal and relocation of pipelines needed to widen and deepen the Ship Channel,” said James T. Edmonds, Port chairman. “The companies operating terminals along the Ship Channel are the primary beneficiaries of these Ship Channel improvements, and we believe — with Congress and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers — that these companies, and not the public, should pay for the pipelines removal.”

The dispute began in 1998 in a lawsuit by 20 companies against the Port and the Corps of Engineers. The plaintiffs included Exxon Pipeline Co., Chevron Chemical, Mobil Pipeline Co., Dynegy Midstream Services, Equilon Pipeline Co., Air Liquide America, Teppco Crude Oil and Texas Eastern Transmission Co. Since the original lawsuit, several companies involved have merged while others have joined the lawsuit after finding out they were affected. The latest number is 19 plaintiffs.

Under the Texas Water Code, if a company is required to move its lines, it must be done at the local project’s expense. In this case, the Port Authority wants the channel widened, Hughes ruled. The Port wants to deepen the channel by up to 45 feet, but dredging will be deeper. The channel also would be widened to 530 feet from 400 feet to accommodate ship traffic.

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