Tuesday, April 14, 2009 | 10:25 a.m.
Summerlin developer Howard Hughes Corp. went to court Monday in hopes of blocking the controversial expansion of capacity in a regional natural gas pipeline that runs through the planned community in western Las Vegas.
Hughes, a subsidiary of real estate giant General Growth Properties Inc. of Chicago, filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Las Vegas, citing public concerns about the safety of the expansion by Kern River Gas Transmission Co.
Kern River has proposed to increase the pressure in its existing regional natural gas pipeline, which runs underneath portions of Summerlin, by 11 percent. The increase would be for the entire length of the pipe, which runs 1,680 miles from Wyoming to Southern California.
Hughes charged in the lawsuit: "a higher-pressure pipeline may contribute to marketplace concerns about safety, the mere perception of which could have an immeasurable negative impact on Summerlin's viability and appeal as a residential community.''
The Sun City Summerlin Community Association last year also protested the plan before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, citing safety concerns, but Kern River has insisted the pipeline was designed and built to accommodate the proposed higher operating pressure.
A Kern River spokesman declined comment, saying the Salt Lake City-based company does not comment on pending litigation. Kern River is a subsidiary of billionaire investor Warren Buffett's MidAmerican Energy Holdings Co.
Kern River needs to install compressor stations and other above-ground equipment to accommodate the increased pressure and hopes to have those systems running by November 2010, pending regulatory approval.
In its lawsuit, Hughes said it objected to the pipeline when it was first proposed in the early 1990s, because Summerlin was planned as a residential development. The objection prompted Kern River to sue Hughes to gain an easement. Hughes said it settled the suit in 1993 by agreeing to allow Kern River to operate the pipeline at a pressure of 1,200 pounds per square inch; and that Kern River agreed at that time not to seek to increase the maximum allowable pressure.
"In reliance upon the 1993 Easement and Settlement Agreement, Howard Hughes substantially designed, developed, marketed and sold portions of Summerlin. Summerlin blossomed as the fastest growing master-planned community in the United States. Today, the pipeline easement weaves through Summerlin's residential communities, as well as the hospitals and schools that serve those communities. In addition, the pipeline easement runs directly through Summerlin Village 17, which has not yet been developed,'' Hughes said in the lawsuit.
It added that the terms of the settlement agreement are confidential. Hughes said it intends to disclose the terms to the court as part of its suit.
Hughes also noted Summerlin now consists of 22,500 acres with a population of about 100,000 people living in 19 villages, and has numerous business parks, shopping centers, parks, hospitals and schools.
Hughes, which is seeking a court order blocking the expansion through Summerlin, also revealed it has been fighting the project on a different front by seeking to intervene in expansion proceedings before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
"For the past 15 years, Summerlin has experienced significant growth as the population of Las Vegas has expanded rapidly. As a result of Howard Hughes's efforts to cultivate and expand the marketplace for premium homes in and around Las Vegas, Summerlin has become the fastest-growing master-planned community in the United States, and its population is projected to reach 200,000 by the development's anticipated completion date," Hughes said in its lawsuit.
"Consequently, the parties' agreement to limit the (pressure) of the pipeline has become increasingly important as Summerlin becomes more densely populated. Summerlin's many neighborhoods, parks, schools, golf courses, hospitals and businesses are now in close proximity to the pipeline," said the suit, filed by attorneys with the firms Bracewell & Giuliani of Houston and Smith Larsen & Wixom of Las Vegas.