Many people have asked me recently if the LCRA Transmission Line issue will finally be resolved soon, and I have had to explain that this is still a long process. Several of us within the County have been actively working to avoid Mason being impacted by this decision for nearly a year now, and I am afraid that the issue is not going away just yet. When LCRA made public their "preferred route" on July 28 many breathed a sigh of relief since the selected path did not enter Mason County, however there are still several more steps before the Public Utilities Commission will make their final decision in January 2011. As I have explained several times, in over thirty years of being in business for myself and in the five years I have served this community as Mayor, I have never encountered a situation or a process that is as confusing and complicated as this one.
All of the meetings and gathering of information during the past several months was to provide LCRA with data to make an analysis of the various routes under consideration, and then they could select one that was the best from their perspective to build and meet this need. When they filed their "preferred route" last month, that phase was complete but the next steps in the process were just starting and we as a community continue to be involved and must be active to protect our scenic and historical heritage. While the preferred route does not come through any part of Mason County, we must remember the PUC has not chosen to follow the entire preferred route on any of the previous CREZ projects and so we continue to be involved to make sure the Mason perspective is seen as they make their decisions.
During the past month several things have happened in this continuing process. About sixty landowners directly impacted by the considered route through Mason have joined together and hired an experienced law firm in Austin to represent them in judicial hearings about this issue. The City and County have also joined this Intervention Group, but before we filed to join them, Judge Bearden and I went to Austin a couple of weeks ago and had an opportunity to address the Commissioners of the PUC in an open meeting and make some of the specific points we feel most represent Mason’s concerns. We questioned the real need for this transmission line in the overall Texas electric grid, and Senator Troy Fraiser echoed those concerns in a letter the same day, and this past Thursday Chairman Smitherman of the PUC requested in writing a thorough study and analysis of the need this line and the possible availability of other transmission lines to meet the expectations. We have also questioned the compatibility of the proposed 180’ steel lattice tower lines with the existing right of way for a 40’ to 60’ creosote pole line as a route through Mason. The PUC has emphasized the consideration of paralleling compatible right of ways, however in a speech on Friday last week, Chairman Smitherman noted that in another route selection the commissioners were persuaded that an existing H-frame wooden structure transmission line was probably not a compatible ROW. I am convinced that the PUC commissioners give serious attention to everything that is presented to them, and I believe that some of the issues we have raised are likely to be of primary concern when they come to making their final decision.
During the next three months, the Intervention Group in coordination with their legal advisors will be gathering and presenting the many and varied negative impacts of the proposed transmission route through Mason and all of the reasons that have been discovered that this would not be good for our community. After all of the evidence is gathered and presented to an administrative law judge, then the summation will be presented to the PUC commissioners and they will make the final determination of the need and route for this transmission line. They have 180 days from the filing date of July 28 to reach a decision, so therefore unless something else comes up we should know that decision in January next year. During this next stage of this process the active involvement moves out of the public sphere of opinion and information gathering and into the law offices and courtroom to be refined and clarified, but the need for the Mason community to be involved is still very great, just less visible.
I am finally encouraged that the concerns and issues that have been raised in Mason will get a full and thorough hearing in these next few months, but I am very cautious in predicting what the final outcome will be. After the Judge and I went to Austin to address the PUC, Chairman Smitherman wrote me a short note and said "while I can never promise the results that you (or others) might prefer, I do promise that the process will be open, honest, thorough and grounded in the statute and our rules." He also commented on his family having a ranch in the Hill Country when he was growing up, and his appreciation of small town concerns and rural values. We in Mason will continue to be certain that our significant concerns and the historic, scenic and community values we hold so dear are not ignored in this process. The affected landowners and your elected officials will continue to be very involved in protecting our corner of the Hill Country and we will continue to keep you informed of the issues and decisions that will ultimately affect us all.