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Group to appeal shut-out on Kenedy wind farm process

An alliance of business and environmental groups expects to appeal a judge’s ruling against letting the group intervene in the construction of two wind farms in Kenedy County.

The Coastal Habitat Alliance, a nine-member conservation group whose representation includes the King and Armstrong ranches, had requested a public hearing with the Public Utility Commission on American Electric Power’s application to install a 21-mile, high-voltage transmission line. The line would service wind farm projects for PPM Energy and Babcock and Brown Ltd. in adjacent properties owned by the John G. and Marie Stella Kenedy Memorial Foundation and the John G. Kenedy Jr. Charitable Trust.

Babcock and Brown plans to spend as much as $800 million to build 157 turbines on foundation land. The initial phase of the PPM project calls for 84 turbines on about 15,000 acres owned by the trust.

A state administrative law judge ruled Friday that a public hearing was not the forum for review of the project and the group hadn’t shown that its members would be affected because the project won’t cross their land, according to The Associated Press.

Elyse Yates, an Austin attorney representing the alliance, said she is unaware of public meetings to gather comment on the projects and that is one of the main reasons the group would like a hearing. A public hearing was held by PPM Energy at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi in February 2006.

Among the coalition’s arguments is that 60,000 acres would be irreparably harmed from the infrastructure needed to build and support the turbines, Yates said. Estimates at sites around the country show that 20,000 to 37,000 birds die annually to collisions with wind turbines.

Marc Cisneros, CEO of the Kenedy foundation, said radars have been in place on the land for the past two years and said the impact to wildlife and the foundation property’s neighbors, the King and Armstrong ranches, would be minimal.

“(The group) is using these scare tactics to control what happens in the area,” Cisneros said. “They’re extremely overstating the balance of things.”

Cisneros said there is a need for alternative energy and the Babcock and Brown project, which would be on the foundation’s land, would help bring in revenue that the foundation would use to continue helping to educate and employ South Texas residents.

“Or, you can keep them barefoot and pregnant and not help anyone down here,” Cisneros said.

Officials with the trust released a statement Tuesday saying their primary responsibility is to administer the trust as expressed by the late Elena Suess Kenedy and her beneficiaries.

“We are satisfied that the proposed wind farm project helps advance Mrs. Kenedy’s expressed wishes to preserve the ranch … both in terms of ensuring continued ranching operations, as well as protecting the environmental sensitivities of the area,” said the statement.

Calls to officials with Babcock and Brown and PPM were not returned Tuesday.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Contact Fanny S. Chirinos at 886-3759 or chirinosf@caller.com

By Fanny S. Chirinos

September 12, 2007