I have had a number of inquiries in the past couple weeks about the current status of the Transmission Line issue that has been so important here in Mason for the past year or more. For many months we were regularly talking and writing about this concern to be certain that everyone who might be interested was fully informed of the situation, but for the past month or two there has been very little to report. Because of the "quiet" several people have come to me and wanted to know what is going on now and whether there is still a threat of the high voltage power line being routed through Mason County. I am pleased to report that we have completed all of the public testimony and comment periods and Mason has been represented in a very strong professional manner in making our concerns and opposition to the local route heard. I am sorry to report at this time that we still do not know what the resolution will be and there is still a possibility that when the three Commissioners of the PUC make their final decision they might overturn all other considerations and select a route that is in their view is good, but which might in our view be very bad! This problem will not be resolved until the Public Utility Commissioners make a ruling on the routing, and they have several more weeks before they are required to reach a decision.
By law, the PUC must act on this route and reach a decision on or before January 24,2011; however there is still one more step to be taken in the procedure. In early November all of the concerned parties had an opportunity to present testimony before Administrative Law Judges in Austin, and Mason was well represented by very good legal assistance and excellent expert testimony. Since that time rebuttals and replies have been filed with the Judges, and they have to present their findings and recommendations on or before December 20th and that will be in a document called a Proposal for Decision which will include a summary of the evidence and each party’s position, and recommend one route for approval. Once that document is filed, all parties will be informed and the PUC staff will notify everyone of deadlines for filing exceptions and the dates that the Commissioners will meet in open meeting to hear arguments on the case and to vote on a route. The PUC has scheduled two open meetings in January (which are subject to change) - January 13th and 20th. It is anticipated that this case will be scheduled for both open meetings which allows the Commissioners to hear arguments and to hear from public officials at the first meeting and then vote on the case at the second meeting; however these dates might change once the Proposal for Decision is filed.
I was just last week told by our lawyer, Kay Trostle, that "Cautious optimism is the about the best you can say at this point. It is also important to emphasize that whatever route the Judges recommend may or may not be what the Commissioners approve. I always feel better when I have the Judges’ recommendation favoring my clients, but it isn’t necessarily the decision that the commissioners will reach." All of us that have been closely involved with this share her feeling of cautious optimism, and we have even been told by high management officials with LCRA that they also share our feelings that the Mason portion of the considered route will not be selected for the final route, but until the decision is reached by the PUC Commissioners no one can be certain or rest easy that this is a problem we have behind us.
Also clouding the problem and discussion about this major high voltage transmission line is the fact that at the same time LCRA is in the process of upgrading the lower voltage transmission line that feeds the Mason substation and provides the power we use every day in the City of Mason. This electric line upgrade is coming to Mason from Llano and Castell to the east and will replace the H-brace poles with monopoles about 60 feet tall like you can see on the edge of Llano starting to come this way. This upgrade certainly will impact a number of landowners and will include some major work within the easement that has been in existence for many years already, and this is the cause for most all of the LCRA trucks and equipment that have been in Mason recently. During the next several months that line will be replaced and upgraded all the way to the Mason substation just over the hill and to the south of Fort Mason, and when complete the City’s power supply will be improved and our needs will be provided for the next several decades. This is an entirely separate project and provides for a different need than the high power transmission lines that have threatened to come into Mason county from the west and create a path of destruction for 160 foot tall lattice towers through the entire county and running down Hwy 87 to Fredericksburg.
This entire process and the concerns it has caused have been some of the most confusing and complicated that I have dealt with in the five years I have been Mayor of Mason. We have been consistently involved in the entire process trying to protect our community and continue the stewardship of our land that has been passed down for generations. I recently came across another bit of information that reinforced our need to protect the historic landscape we live in. The Texas Department of Agriculture has a program to honor farms and ranches that have been owned and operated by the same family for over a hundred years, and to identify those properties as Family Land Heritage properties. Since the program was started in 1974, Mason County has been home to 77 ranches that have been honored with this designation, and when I looked at all the properties in Texas, only 8 other counties out of the 254 counties in Texas have that many honorees! We live in a community that has a very strong heritage and is very willing to fight to continue and protect the values that have made us strong and unique in the state. This is a wonderful hometown and our community is a very special place that we all want to be able to enjoy for many years to come, and I am certain that we have done everything reasonable to protect our heritage and our environment from unnecessary development that would not benefit us in any worthwhile manner.
Your friend and neighbor, Brent Hinckley