Beckett sues pipeline builder over ocelot habitat

Associated Press Modified: October 17, 2012 at 5:16 pm •  Published: October 17, 2012

McALLEN, Texas (AP) — Not even the legal equivalent of a fastball under the chin could stop a Texas pipeline builder from clearing acres of brush that Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Josh Beckett claims is critical habitat for the endangered ocelot.

A federal lawsuit filed Tuesday in Laredo by two of Beckett's companies asks a judge to stop any further work on the natural gas pipeline and specify what the builder must do under the Endangered Species Act. The companies filed a motion for a temporary restraining order Wednesday that included a statement from Beckett describing two occasions when he saw what he believes were ocelots.

But the clearing of about 40 acres of thick native scrub on a 7,000-acre hunting ranch about 100 miles southwest of San Antonio was finished earlier this month despite a warning Beckett's lawyers sent to Eagle Ford Midstream LP and its parent NET Midstream in August.

The pipeline company had obtained an easement across Beckett's Herradura Ranch in state court, according to the lawsuit. Beckett Ventures Inc. and Hall of Fame Land Ventures LP claim that they urged the company to choose a shorter, direct path rather than the diagonal swath that was cleared.

"Plaintiffs have attempted repeatedly, and failed, to persuade defendants to adopt an environmentally responsible route that will not cause a prohibited 'take' of the endangered ocelot, which has been spotted on the ranch and which has extensive habitat on the ranch," according to the motion filed Wednesday.

A phone message left with Eagle Ford Midstream's parent company wasn't immediately returned.

But the company filed a response with the court Wednesday, arguing that the hunting ranch's activity posed a greater threat than their pipeline. They pointed out that a state court denied Beckett's similar request to halt their project earlier this month.

Jim Blackburn, who filed the lawsuit, said Beckett's companies went to state court first because the waiting period for federal jurisdiction under the Endangered Species Act hadn't passed before Eagle Ford Midstream started clearing land. He thinks Eagle Ford intentionally destroyed the habitat during that waiting period.

"We were trying to do everything we could to stop them from clearing the vegetation," Blackburn said.

Eagle Ford Midstream noted that e-mails it received from Beckett's lawyers in April requested an alternative route because of the impact on an irrigation system and the ranch's hunting business with no mention of endangered species.

"The protection of the ocelot was merely a sham to leverage additional money from (Eagle-Ford Midstream) in exchange for an easement," the response said.

Beckett was bow hunting from a camouflaged blind on the ranch six years ago when he saw a "very stealthy" cat with unusual markings come through a fence and walk down a drainage, according to statement filed with the court Wednesday.

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