Boone Pickens wants a special district that would give him the right to condemn property for his business projects.
The Roberts County Commissioners Court will meet Tuesday to consider a petition filed by people affiliated with the Dallas businessman and Roberts County ranch owner’s Mesa Water and Mesa Power. The petition asks for the creation of a fresh water supply district that would cover eight acres owned by the people who submitted the petition.
“I don’t know if we have any choice,” said Roberts County Judge Vernon Cook.
The deadline to put the issue on the November ballot is Thursday, so commissioners will probably take action immediately after the public hearing, Cook said.
The use of special districts by businesses is nothing new.
“It actually happens quite a bit. Harris County has several hundred types of special districts,” said Dave Rausch, associate professor of political science at West Texas A & M University. “In Austin, San Antonio and Dallas, they’ve been mostly used by developers. They can do all the things government can do.”
That includes taxing, selling bonds to raise money for projects and using eminent domain to condemn and take property needed to make a project happen.
And while the proposed district has water in its name, it may be more about power.
“Their focus is on wind energy,” Cook said. “They’ve admitted they don’t have any water buyers.”
Pickens has proposed a massive wind farm and coal and natural gas plants to generate electricity to send to the Dallas area, much like his plans to send water that way.
With eminent domain powers, pushing a right of way for power lines from the Panhandle to Dallas is simplified.
“Then incidentally, if they get the water sold, they can build a pipeline along it,” Cook said.
A Mesa spokesman did not return answers to questions asked Thursday afternoon.
The Texas Legislature recently changed the rules for special districts, defining eligible voters as those who own property in the district rather than having to live in the district.
In the 1990s, the family of former Dallas Cowboy owner H.R. Bum Bright was developing subdivisions outside Dallas and the Dallas Morning News chronicled their use of special districts for profit.
Bright’s grandson, Chris Reeder, passed a tax to develop a golf course by himself, claiming to live in a special district for the project north of Dallas.
However, days before the election, he reported the theft of a gun from his home in Highland Park in the heart of Dallas, the Morning News reported.
The address he gave was a home he bought with cousin Nathan Petty. In two elections, Petty was the sole voter passing as much as $20 million in bond sales to finance streets and water lines.
By Kevin Welch
31 August 2007
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