Lack of action on a tax abatement for a company looking to build a series of wind generators in western Cooke and eastern Montague counties could send the alternative energy project to other counties, a spokesman said Monday.
The Cooke County Commissioners Court took no action in its Monday meeting to give or deny Florida Power and Light a tax abatement for a series of gargantuan wind-powered electric generators on about 10,000 acres in western Cooke County.
The inaction, according to a company official, may cause them to consider other locations for the wind turbines.
“The lack of action will probably kill this deal, and we’ll now have to reconsider our investment in Cooke County,” Edwin Giraldo, project manager for Florida Power and Light, said in an interview following the meeting.
The Commissioners took no action on a first order of business, to consider adopting the area designated as the future Wolf Ridge Wind Farms, as a reinvestment zone; so a second order of business – that of granting a tax abatement – was a moot point, as an abatement cannot be given outside a reinvestment zone.
In a public hearing, several county residents spoke against the tax abatement.
Ernie Brinkley of Mountain Springs said granting an abatement may show favoritism.
Brinkley, a board member of the Lake Ray Roberts Planning and Zoning Commission, said he is typically pro-industry, and he recently voted in favor of Pumpco Energy Services building a truck maintenance facility and office building in the Lake Ray Roberts protected area. He said a company headquarters like Pumpco’s would create jobs.
“But as for energy companies, we don’t typically allow abatements for gas and oil companies to build rigs, and I don’t think we need to make that distinction for Florida Power and Light,” he said.
He said few jobs would be created for the wind farm.
“I believe in going green as much as possible,” said Ken Arterbury of the Dexter community. “But this company is going to make money off of wind blowing in the county … if anything, they should be paying us.”
Arterbury said there is no deficit of “wind” in Cooke County, meeting laughter.
Walter Lutkenhaus spoke against the abatement.
“I don’t think we need to give them any more dollars from our pockets,” he said, speaking briefly.
Drew Springer of Muenster said wind generators typically cannot turn a profit if not for federal tax breaks given to their parent energy companies.
Springer said he heard four to six jobs would be created, mostly security for the towers.
Giraldo, speaking after the meeting, said there would be more jobs created than just security in building the towers, maintaining them and monitoring their performance. He noted the payments to property owners would be a boon to the economy, possibly generating $10 million in revenue including tax payments to the Muenster ISD and other local taxing entities.
“The benefits are clearly real as to what it brings to the county,” Giraldo said.
He said concerns about road damage by trucks building the towers are inaccurate, as Florida Power and Light has in its contract responsibility to maintain roadways it destroys during construction.
“The bottom line is that there is opposition to the windfarm, regardless of the benefits it would provide,” he said.
In other business, the Commissioners unanimously allocated votes to four Cooke County Appraisal District (CCAD) Board of Directors candidates. The directors oversee the finances of the county’s central tax appraisal office and have the power to hire and fire the chief appraiser.
The Commissioners gave 344 of its votes to incumbent Jim Myrick, 392 to incumbent Bob Knauf, 421 to incumbent David Clifton and 18 to newcomer Dean Mendenhall. The county had 1,175 votes to distribute in the electoral-college-style election, and had the power to distribute the votes any way the Commissioners chose.
Candidates Adam Schniederjan and Terry Westcoat received no votes from Cooke County. County Judge Bill Freeman said now that Gainesville ISD, the city of Gainesville, Callisburg ISD, and other larger tax entities have voted, there were not enough votes left over to seat any of the other candidates.
About 160 votes have yet to come in from Pilot Point ISD, the city of Valley View and Slidell ISD, but not enough to shift the outcome of the election.
Freeman noted Larry Partain was voted on the CCAD’s Board of Directors by the GISD’s votes and incumbent Beverly Snuggs will retain her seat after receiving the city of Gainesville’s votes.
In other business, the Commissioners unanimously voted to hire legal counsel to represent Cooke County in upcoming Groundwater Conservation District formation hearings, set for the spring to determine whether Cooke County should have its own district to conserve water resources, be placed into a multi-county jurisdiction with larger counties in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex, or be placed in a smaller multi-county district with small counties to the west including Montague and Wise counties.
“We think we have some uniqueness that would make this possible,” Precinct 3 Commissioner Al Smith said, noting the county’s preference to manage a single-county groundwater conservation district (GCD).
He said the a hearing in October named Cooke County a party in future hearings for legal purposes, and thus legal advice may be necessary.
Freeman said some have considered the county’s decision to lobby for its own GCD “an uphill battle.” But Freeman said defending water rights it is a battle worth fighting.
“It’s something this court should guard jealously,” Freeman said. “We already lost our surface water rights – we need to protect our groundwater rights at all costs.”
Under state law, surface water sources, such as Moss Lake, may be captured by counties down the watershed from Cooke, including Dallas and Tarrant.
In other business, the Commissioners voted to table a bid from BJ Company Contractors for the construction of the new Justice Center Road project.
Jess Cason of BJ Company Contractors said the estimated cost is in the neighborhood of $500,000 and work would be similar to that of the O’Neal Street expansion project, but using Texoma Council of Government standards for curb height, drainage, etc., rather than the city of Gainesville’s.
The Commissioners tabled the decision so a value engineering study could be conducted.
In other jail-related business, the County voted unanimously to approve a bid from Securus for a pay phone system for inmates, and approved a related $10,000 donation.
According to Jail Administrator Larry Winters and Auditor Shelly Saunders, the phone system was originally half AT&T and half Securus, but AT&T wanted out of the inmate phone business.
In other business, the Commissioners took no action on an item of business to re-route the split intersection between County Roads 207 and 322. According to nearby resident David Pembroke, the intersection is potentially dangerous.
A triangular island separates two forks of CR 207 – one going straight into a T-shape intersection with CR 322 and CR 207 and another that curves gently into CR 207. There is a yield sign at the curve and a stop sign at the T-shaped intersection. The curve was probably built to accommodate large farm equipment and trailers.
State Trooper Sgt. Ray Sappington spoke in favor of the change. The Commissioners said since the forked intersection has been there for at least 20 years a road closure order would be the standard route to proceed, in order to give residents time to respond; thus, no action was taken.
In other business, the Commissioners held a hearing on the adoption of “an order to tax tangible personal property in transit which would otherwise be exempt pursuant to Sec. 11.253 of the Texas Tax Code.”
This action relates to whether certain tangible personal property held temporarily at a location in this state for assembling, storing, manufacturing, processing or fabricating purposes (known as “goods–in–transit”) shall remain subject to taxation by Cooke County as it has in the past.
Arterbury spoke in favor of denying the exemption, calling it a loophole for manufacturers to avoid paying their taxes.
After closing the hearing, the Commissioners voted unanimously to continue taxing goods-in-transit.
In other business, the Commissioners unanimously:
• Enter an interlocal agreement with the City of Gainesville.
• Renew the county’s insurance coverage through Texas Association of Counties.
• Nominate Precinct 2 Commissioner Steve Key and Freeman as representatives to the Pubic Power Pool.
• Approve two Sheriff’s Office bonds.
• Table a contract with ACS Government Records for updating the cashiering system in County Clerk’s Office, so details may be added to a contract.
• Allow Cimmarron Gathering, at their expense to install a six-inch poly pipeline for a low-pressure gas gathering across County Road 345 about 3,613 feet south east of County Road 349 by use of a road bore.
• Approved list of consent agenda items, including cleaning a fence row for Marcus and Donna Schafer on County Road 156.
No action was taken following an executive session held prior to the wind farm business.
The meeting adjourned at noon.
By Andy Hogue
Register Staff Writer
27 November 2007
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