Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Clifton Mayor Decries “Big Guy Stomping On An Ant”

Oil tycoons fussing over routing of windmill-generator energy transmission lines

Clifton - Fred Volcansek's voice comes growling through the phone receiver.

“We've got a half million dollars in promotion on the line and these guys are going to throw a hand grenade on us.”

The Mayor of this central Texas community, Mr. Volcansek has experience serving in three GOP White House administrations, the latest of which was a tour as Deputy Undersecretary of the International Trade Administration under the George H.W. Bush Administration's Commerce Secretary, land man and wildcatter Robert Mosbacher, Sr. An accomplished yachtsman from New York, Mr. Mosbacher was the acknowledged point man for NAFTA. His father was instrumental in forming the American Stock Exchange.

“We're talking about a big guy stomping on an ant,” Mr. Volcansek says of a wealthy neighbor's behind-the-scenes efforts to have unsightly 120-foot-high electrical transmission lines routed through his Bosque County bailiwick instead of the more direct – and shorter – route through the adjacent Hill County ranches near Hillsboro.

It's shaping up to be a battle between oil tycoons.

According to Mr. Volcansek, “a call was made by one of the Bass brothers to (Governor) Rick Perry to get the transmission line out of his ranch and area.”

Mr. Mosbacher, who passed last January, was a famous friend of President George H.W. Bush who brought in a huge gas field in south Texas to found his cornerstone empire at Houston, Mosbacher Energy. His latest foray into national politics was to serve as the Chairman of Senator John McCain's unsuccessful bid for the presidency in 2008.

“The problem is that Bosque County was out-lawyered by the other two groups,” Mr. Volcansek explained. “Hillsboro ranchers spent nearly $580,000 on their lawyers and the Whitney ranchers spent nearly $370,000.”

Bosque County ranchers spent about $70,000 on their legal attack, which was not so successful in terms of NIMBY (not in my back yard).

The area, a once-impoverished and marginal ranching and farming community that suffered an environmental disaster in an extended mid-50's drought, is making quite a comeback as a bedroom commuter community of weekenders who have built high-fenced deer and exotic game lodges perched on the tops of the flatiron mesas along Highway 6.

Predictably, an administrative law judge at Austin ruled to have the Public Utilities Commission route the new line, which extends 300 miles from the West Texas windmill generator farms between Abilene and Post to the Houston area, through Bosque County, the up and coming hunting and fishing retirement mecca for D/FW retirees with its abundant game and many miles of waterfront on Lake Whitney.

In classic Washingtonian form, Mr. Volcansek is looking to fill four tour buses with Bosque area citizens to attend a hearing bright and early on Wednesday morning at the Commission's Austin headquarters. Start time: 5:45 at the Clifton Civic Center.

The delegation will make a three-pronged presentation on the advantages of routing the lines through Hill County focused on the environmental impact, the economic impact, and Mr. Volcansek's specialty, political impact, on Bosque County property values.

It's all about the money, he explains. Land owners in Bosque control much smaller parcels on hilly terrain that averages less than 200 acres per parcel.

The economic impact on the estimated 200 families involved in condemning and acquiring the Bosque County easement is estimated at about $1,000 per acre in diminished property value.

“They're going to have this place looking like some kind of industrial area,” said Mayor Volcansek. Clifton is certified as a retirement community by the State of Texas, a center for the arts and a historical district on the route of the Old Chisholm Trail to Ft. Worth through the county seat, Meridian.

Then there is the length and the terrain of route to consider, the says. The line through Bosque County would stretch 59.1 miles while the Hill County route over flatter, straighter lines would be only 37 miles and have an impact on about 85 families whose parcels are much larger.

Public Utilities Commission engineers recommended the route through Hillsboro.

More tomorrow when I get back from Ostentatious in the Peoples' Republic of Travis County.

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