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Billionaire's district for private project almost a sure bet  

LUBBOCK, Texas—It won’t take long to count the votes next week on a plan that would help billionaire T. Boone Pickens deliver Panhandle water to growing north Texas communities. There’s even less doubt about the outcome.

Just two people—Pickens’ ranch manager and his wife—will cast ballots Nov. 6 to confirm the creation of a Fresh Water Supply District in Roberts County.

Alton Boone, who manages Pickens’ vast Canadian River Valley ranch, and his wife Lu live within the eight-acre water district and are its only eligible voters.

The couple also will vote to seat a five-member board of supervisors—which would include themselves and three Pickens employees—and to approve $101 million in revenue bonds to acquire rights-of-way through as many as 12 counties for delivering water and wind-generated electricity.

The bonds would be repaid from money collected from water and electric customers who benefit from Pickens’ water and wind energy projects.

The election is the next step in what has been a five-year effort by Pickens’ Mesa Water to market and ship water from the Ogallala Aquifer to thirsty cities.

Pickens also wants to install 2,700 large wind turbines in parts of four Panhandle counties capable of producing up to 4,000 megawatts of electricity, making it the world’s largest wind farm.

Roberts County commissioners formed the freshwater district in September at the request of landowners in the district—all of whom just recently bought their acreage from Pickens. Under Texas law, voters living on the affected land must ratify the change before it becomes official.

Texas has 55 fresh water districts, established since 1919, when the Legislature authorized them for the exclusive purpose of providing and distributing water for domestic and commercial use.

While Tuesday’s election may appear to be a “done deal,” local officials say it has drawn more interest from afar than those living within the county.

“Most of them say, ‘I can’t believe he can do that'” County Judge Vernon Cook said. “I say, ‘Yes, that’s the way our fearless leaders (in Austin) changed the statute.’

“There’s no doubt in my mind it’ll be formed.”

Texas lawmakers say they made the changes earlier this year in an effort to standardize the state’s water laws and give property owners a greater say on issues affecting their land.

“In the end it’s not any special Pickens law,” said Rep. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe. “Nothing to do with Pickens was even remotely part of my efforts at all.”

Others, however, suggest that money played a part in the changes. Andrew Wheat of Texans for Public Justice, a nonprofit watchdog group that tracks money in politics, said Pickens’ spent about $2.2 million on lobbyists this year and campaign contributions in 2006.

“It could be coincidence but if it is, it’s a hell of a coincidence,” Wheat said. “No sooner did this law take affect and his lawyers were already working on this particular proposal that seems to be framed by the very legal changes made.”

But Monty Humble, Pickens’ attorney, denied that the oil tycoon was behind the legislation.

“We had absolutely nothing to do with” those changes, said Humble.

Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, where he once served as mayor, has other worries.

“What concerns me more is the potential to undermine the conservation of (Panhandle) groundwater that’s facing some real challenges,” he said. “Those changes (in the statutes) were not in anticipation of exportation of water” by Pickens or anyone else.

By Betsy Blaney
Associated Press writer

El Paso Times

31 October 2007

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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