Taylor County landowners who went to court to fight a wind farm built in their neighborhoods may have gained a powerful ally in potential future battles: the fabled King Ranch of South Texas.
The ranch ownership, now a corporate holding company, is fighting a proposed wind farm next to one of its spreads in Kenedy County.
A group of Taylor County landowners, mainly residents of the southwest quadrant of the county, lost a jury trial last December. They sued Florida Power & Light affiliates, owner of the Horse Hollow project west of Tuscola and Buffalo Gap. The landowners sought damages for reduced property values they claimed were caused by the building of the wind farm, the world’s largest.
Steve Thompson, the Houston lawyer representing the plaintiffs, said he was filing a notice of appeal of the 42nd District Court case on Wednesday. The 11th Court of Appeals in Eastland would hear the appeal.
Dale Rankin, a lead plaintiff in the case, said King Ranch should prove a potent ally.
”I would think so,” he said Wednesday. ”They carry a little bit of weight around Austin.”
State Rep. Robert Puente, a San Antonio Democrat, has filed a bill to require the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to regulate the location of wind projects to protect a variety of interests. They include endangered, threatened or migratory wildlife; neighboring property owners; Indian religious sites; and significant historical, architectural, engineering or cultural locations. Proposed location in floodplains, tornado zones and hurricane zones would also be considered by the TCEQ.
King Ranch has been battling a proposed coastal wind farm in Kenedy County, just east of its ranch, the Austin American-Statesman reported Wednesday. The project would place 267 turbines along the Gulf’s Laguna Madre, the newspaper reported.
Jack Hunt, chief executive officer of King Ranch Inc., said Texans should step back from the wind rush, which he called a frenzy, the American-Statesman reported.
”People need to take a deep breath and think a little,” the Austin newspaper quoted Hunt as saying.
Puente’s measure, HB 2794, has been referred to a subcommittee of the House Regulated Industries Committee. A public hearing scheduled last Thursday was postponed.
Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, an ardent advocate of wind power who has leased state land on the Gulf Coast for the placement of wind turbines, has bluntly declared opposition to his bill, Puente said.
”He said he was going to do what he could to not let it pass,” the lawmaker said.
Rankin scoffed at Patterson’s stance, which includes an assertion that Puente’s bill is dead.
”He’s just a pro-wind nut; he’s just a zealot,” Rankin said, adding he thinks his cause will ultimately be successful. ”It’s going to happen in the Legislature; it’s going to happen in the courts,” he predicted.
The appeal from the December verdict in 42nd District Court will result in a retrial in Taylor County, Rankin predicted. In any new trial, he hopes that evidence of ”visual pollution” created by the turbines, and the resulting hit to property values, will be allowed. In the first trial, District Judge John Weeks excluded such evidence.
Calls to Florida Power & Light representatives were not immediately returned Wednesday.
By Jerry Daniel Reed
Edited: Patti Steele; headline and copy editor: Jeff Wolf
29 March 2007
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