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South Texas wind farms face opposition to power line

PORT MANSFIELD – An alliance including the King Ranch and environmental groups opposed to the construction of two wind farms in South Texas said it will fight a judge’s rejection of its bid to intervene in a case before the Public Utility Commission.The Coastal Habitat Alliance had requested a public hearing into American Electric Power’s pending application to build a 21-mile, high-voltage transmission line to serve the projects.

The group, which includes the American Bird Conservancy and the Lower Laguna Madre Foundation, is opposed to two wind farms planned for Kenedy Ranch property.

An administrative law judge ruled Friday that a public hearing was not an appropriate forum for review of the project. The judge said the group hadn’t shown that its members would be affected, because the project won’t cross their land.

The coalition said it will appeal to the commission.

Jim Blackburn, a Houston attorney representing the group, said it has “standing to argue for the protection of one of the world’s most unique natural habitats as well as the preservation of thousands of migratory birds, many of them government-protected species.”

The Kenedy Foundation called the ruling a victory for private property rights. Marc Cisneros, chief executive officer of the John G. and Marie Stella Kenedy Memorial Foundation in Corpus Christi, said he was “glad to see the integrity of government” despite the influence of the King Ranch.

Babcock & Brown Ltd., an Australian investment bank, plans to spend up to $800 million to build 157 turbines on a lease secured from the foundation. The initial phase of a project by PPM Energy of Portland, Ore., calls for 84 turbines on about 15,000 acres owned by the John G. Kenedy Jr. Charitable Trust.

Walt Kittelberger, founder of the Lower Laguna Madre Foundation in Port Mansfield, said the proposed wind farms could threaten the migratory flyway and tourism based on visiting birds.

Cisneros said a two-year study found that the wind farms wouldn’t affect with migratory birds.

Blackburn said the alliance’s appeal will argue construction of a transmission line would destroy as much as 60,000 acres of coastal habitat and threaten migratory birds.