More than two hundred citizens and friends of Mason County attended the first membership meeting of the newly formed Texas Hill Country Heritage Association. Despite a malfunctioning p.a. system, limited parking, and standing room only for late arrivals, the enthusiasm of the speakers and the impressive turnout made the event a success.
THCHA Chairman Lee Lasater gave introductory remarks about the challenge that faces us. The Public Utility Commission of Texas and the LCRA are now considering the construction of a 345 kilovolt transmission line through Mason, Menard and Gillespie Counties. This line will carry wind generated electricity from West Texas to the San Antonio area, but it will not deliver electricity to our county.
The LCRA has announced a series of ‘Open Houses’ this coming January to show the detailed routes they may choose for this transmission line. Previous ‘Open Houses’ held by the LCRA have caught landowners and local governments off guard and unprepared. The purpose of the Thursday night meeting was to share what we have learned about this process and to seek new members to help out in our opposition to this line.
Robert Weatherford, representing the Save Our Scenic Hill Country Environment organization in Fredericksburg, gave a Powerpoint presentation explaining the history and present status of the CREZ project. Gillespie County has been facing several proposed transmission line schemes, and Mr. Weatherford’s group has three years experience in educating the public about these threats.
Judge Jerry Bearden expressed his steadfast opposition to the Mason County transmission route, and was rewarded with several rounds of applause. Judge Bearden discussed the newly formed Mason Sub Regional Planning Commission, a legal tool which will force PUC, LCRA and other state agencies to coordinate their activities with our local government on a basis of equal standing. Two representatives of county government, Judge Bearden and Commissioner Toeppich, and two representatives of city government, Mayor Hinckley and Commissioner Beatty, plus citizen representative Mike Dail, make up the Commission. They will have their first meeting with PUC and LCRA representatives on November 24th.
Judge Bearden also stressed the difference between the recently completed Florida Power and Light transmission line, which runs west of Mason, and the LCRA CREZ line. FPL reportedly paid between $100 and $300 a running foot for easements. The LCRA has power of eminent domain and is expected to pay considerably less. Judon Fambrough of the TAMU Real Estate Center reported at a recent meeting in Mason that five to ten dollars a running foot is the most LCRA is likely to offer. Landowners who refuse their offers can face condemnation proceedings.
A local landowner whose property backs up to the existing 138kv line asked how well community opposition to these transmission lines had worked. Mr. Weatherford pointed out the Clear View Alliance, the Kimble County organization that spent tens of thousands of dollars lobbying to have Mason County added as an alternate route. The Clear View Alliance is not resting now that Mason has been made a target. They have hired an environmental services firm to bolster their arguments for the special qualities of Kimble County.
Mayor Brent Hinckley spoke briefly and stressed the importance of citizen letters to the PUC and our state representatives. A sample letter was distributed at the meeting and is available on the Heritage Association’s website, thcha.org.