Daily Progress, Jacksonville, TX

December 11, 2012

Pipeline project an economic boon for East Texas

Jo Anne Embleton
Jacksonville Daily Progress

JACKSONVILLE — A pipeline that will ultimately bring crude oil from the Canadian border to the Texas Gulf Coast might only shoot through small areas of Cherokee County, but the potential economic pay-off will be huge, say local leaders and businessmen.

An estimated 80 percent of the crews working on the 485-mile long crude oil pipeline that originates in Cushing, Okla., will lodge, eat and shop locally while they construct the conduit, said Jim Prescott, a senior public affairs and communications management consultant working with TransCanada Keystone Project, of which the Gulf Coast Project is a component.

“They're buying fuel and shopping at the local WalMart; they're renting sites at RV parks for their campers,” he said. “They're coming from all around to lay the pipeline into the ground.”

County Judge Chris Davis calls it a “morale booster” seeing trucks bearing equipment traveling county thoroughfares as workers go to their job sites along the pipeline's route.

“I am excited about it coming in, because we have people living and eating and shopping and possibly worshiping here,” the judge said. “Maybe this economic boost won't last long, but we're happy for it to be here while it is. Because anytime I see business here, I'm proud – I want us to be a business-friendly county.”

Davis said he's encountered workers as they shop and eat in local businesses, pointing out that “someone's making money, and we're going to get tax base out of this, even from the protesters, because I'm sure they're shopping and buying stuff, too.”

Cherokee County has a one-half (0.5) percent taxable purchase rate that helps alleviate taxpayers' burden by allowing them to pay less on their annual tax bill assessed by the county, with funds going into the county's budget for general operating expenses.

“I'm sure these workers are stopping at our convenience stores and eating at our restaurants, even staying at RV parks throughout our county. And there are a lot of law enforcement officials who are getting to work security detail” for TransCanada, which in turn, is spent by residents at local businesses, thus creating a secondary impact, Davis said.

Larry St. Pierre agreed.

The Country Estates RV Park and Campgrounds owner said his 42-lot property, located at 1639 W. 6th Street in Rusk, near Rusk State Park, usually sees good business from work crews assigned to the area.

“We had a gas pipeline crew staying here three or four years ago, and there have been guys working on the road and cleaning powerlines,” he said.

With this project, “we were full about a month when the clearing crews were here, then they cleared out. Now the pipeline workers are in, I've got about 10 or 12 staying here, best I know, through next summer,” St. Pierre said. The site is usually about 50 percent occupied, but with these crews, that number has gone to approximately 75 percent capacity, he added.

“I believe this is a good thing for the local economy, because we've got people buying groceries in our stores, eating in our restaurants,” he said. “It's helping me by giving me an income.”

But in Troup, Chamber of Commerce executive director Gene Whitsell said the town expects to see “some very short-range impact” from the pipeline's presence.

“Maybe there will be money on easements that people are granting to the pipeline, and of course we might collect some sales tax, but these workers will not be here very long because they're moving quickly” on the project, Whitsell said. “But our local merchants definitely will see an impact.”

Jacksonville city manager Mo Raissi pointed out that any positive effects that Jacksonville sees through sales tax won't be known for two months, when the state of Texas reports revenues for the month of November.

“When we get them, we compare them to the same period of the prior year,” then see what sort of difference there is having pipeline workers in the area, Raissi said. “I don't have any official indication … the earliest will be two months down the road.”

Bob Goldsberry, executive director of the Rusk Chamber of Commerce, agreed, adding that regardless of the results, “we just appreciate the fact that they're here.”

“We're kind of the midway point of the leg (of pipeline) that they're building, and it's always a good thing to see these kinds of projects here,” Goldsberry said. “It benefits not just Rusk and Jacksonville, but it's good for the whole county.”