Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Existing High Lines Are Not A “Trump” - PUC Official

PUC retreats behind smokescreen of "criteria," sides with Admin. Judge

Austin - Walt Human addressed the throng of about 100 hot, frustrated, tired and disappointed people who had boarded tour buses in the pre-dawn darkness.

They stood dejected in the late afternoon sunshine streaming through plate glass windows into the gleaming lobby of a high rise State of Texas office building, avoiding eye contact with one another as he said, “I think the facts were on our side...”

Minutes earlier, the three-member Texas Public Utilities Commission sided with an Administrative Law Judge who differed with the recommendation of the state's engineers and routed a 57-mile section of high voltage transmission line through an environmentally sensitive area of rural Bosque County.

To do so, the three-member panel differed, as an administrative law judge had done before them, with the recommendation of their own staff engineers, whose opinion called for routing the 120-foot high pylons that will carry high voltage transmission from the windmill farms of west Texas to the Houston area along the route of an existing right of way much farther north, then east to skirt Highway 22 and cross into Hill County.

Discussion of why the transmission line could not follow such a route bordered on the abstruse, thence headed right on through to ceramics in the dialect of high glaze.

Commissioner Donna Nelson told the onlooking gallery, 100 of whom were dressed alike in the “colors” of Save Our Spaces in blue jeans, white dress shirts and red bandanas, “There's never been a place where we've said existing transmission lines are a trump.”

In an August 11, 2009, letter to Commission Chairman Barry Smitherman obtained from filings before the Commission, State Senator Troy Fraser, Dist. 24, (R-Horseshoe Bay), reminded the Commission that they adopted a policy on June 30, 2009, to ask applicants to, "at the largest extent possible, use existing right of ways and state highway right of ways when proposing the use the existing rights of way and path of least resistance in order to protect personal property rights..."

Ms. Nelson said that concerned citizens from the Hill Country who have voiced opinions over recent controversial routing decisions made by the Commission are “a little bit offensive.” Rich, poor, large and small, she said, none of the decisions made are based on anything but the law and the recommendations of experts.

Earlier, during discussion of a case involving a transmission line near Fredericksburg, Chairman Barry Smitherman subjected a citizens group representative to a tongue-lashing that was embarrassing in its intensity. He told the man his remarks regarding a Commission decision, duly quoted in the Fredericksburg newspaper, were “inaccurate, inflammatory” and otherwise highly objectionable.

When the man tried to say the remarks were based on his honest opinion “at the time,” Mr. Smitherman shouted him down and would not accept his explanation, angrily admonishing him not to make such comments in the future.

“I think we're to the point where further deliberation is unnecessary,” he said after the commissioners returned from a short break.

Throughout the discussion and deliberations of the Bosque route of the new transmission line, the members of S.O.S. remained stolidly quiet and respectful, their voiced lowered if they said anything at all.

One anonymous caller who contacted The Legendary shortly after a post-darkness arrival back home said, “I think it was all decided before we walked in there.” He insisted upon anonymity, refusing to give his name.

“Those people are vindictive,” he said. "I'm going to have to keep on dealing with them."

The one hold-out was Commissioner Ken Anderson, who said “I would go with the staff's route...along part of the route...This is about compatible rights of way and property boundaries. It's a very close call. I'll vote with y'all just in the interest of having a unanimous decision.”

He said the recommended route would encroach on property controlled by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at Lake Whitney and the Texas Department of Transportation near the Hill County seat of Hillsboro.

“You're dealing with intractable bureaucracies,” he said. “With the Corps of Engineers, it's either their way, or the highway.”

During the time reserved for citizens presentation, Clifton Mayor Fred Volcansek told of a half-million dollar promotion of the area's arts attractions, upcoming cable and satellite broadcasts that will be seen by millions of viewers, an elaborate billboard advertising plan linked with internet websites, an impending announcement by the Smithsonian Institution that the banks of the Bosque River held encampments by people who came to this area from Manchuria, China and Mongolia more than 12,000 years ago.

It's been proven through an analysis of the DNA contained in bones and funereal materials found in a dig. The government's scientists will soon extend the site of the archaeological discovery an additional two miles past its original boundaries.

Promotional ads planned by the Smithsonian Institution will read, “Come meet Sam,” the nickname of the human remains found on the Bosque River near Clifton. "All we're asking for is a level playing field," he said.

A moment of sadness came when one of the interveners, a young lady named Marian Kleine, whose family has owned the L.P.Reed Ranch, Ltd., for more than 100 years, mourned the bifurcation of the family's cattle ranch by the proposed right of way.

More than 90 such families will see the power lines slice through their properties.

A moment of comic relief came when internationally famous western artist George Hallmark, commented privately on the flavor of the endangered species, the yellow-cheeked warbler, which lives in the cedar brakes of the area. Mr. Hallmark did not testify.

Barbecued, he said, “It tastes just like chicken – or maybe a cross between the spotted owl and a baby seal.”
Said Mayor Volcansek following the Commission's action in adopting the administrative law judge's ruling, "There is something in the future in all this...I won't go any further." In an earlier article, The Legendary implied that Mayor Volcansek was an active member of the Ford and Reagan White House administrations. He worked as a contractor in those organizations and requested clarification in these columns. He did serve as a Deputy Undersecretary in the International Trade Administration during the George Herbert Walker Bush presidential administration under Commerce Secretary Robert Mosbacher, Sr.

Good night, Chesty, wherever you are. - to honor General Lewis B. Puller, U.S.M.C., on the birthday of the U.S. Marine Corps


  1. and one commissioner had a conflict of interest and voted anyway.

  2. Aren't you forgetting about the ranchers and families that would be affected if the staff's route would have been chosen? You didn't attend the previous hearings and I doubt that you have any idea what is actually in the record regarding pro's and con's for the indiviual routes. The power line is bad for Bosque County - ALL of Bosque County. Your portrayal of the little man versus the rich man is specious at best. There is equal wealth and vast ranches on the SOS route as there are on the staff's route. Your objectivity is a bit lacking. The county loses no matter which route is chosen.

  3. I disagree, Mr. or Ms. Anonymous. But, please, do tell us more about what we missed, if you please. I would say that my article speaks for itself. I merely said that the commissioners deviated from their previously adopted policy of following pre-existing rights of way, which is the truth.

    There is no doubt that transmission line rights of way have a negative impact on any piece of property. That's why the law has provisions of condemnation and the calculation of a fair market value for a utiity's acquisition of the property.

    This is an unhappy situation, at best. I would very much like to know more about its true dimensions.

    I portrayed no little man v. the rich, man, sir or madame, as you may be. I attributed the statement to a certain public official, Mayor Fred Volcansek of Clifton. Read a little more closely, if you please. Damn me and vilify my name to your heart's content, but do be good enough to sign your criticism with your own name. It's only fair.

    Take the time to read my article more closely. I think you will see that I merely reported what I saw and heard. It's the best that I can do.

    The Legendary
    Jim Parks