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Coalition sues Land Office over wind farms; Groups, including King Ranch, want to require extensive environmental review of wind projects

The famed King Ranch and a coalition of environmental groups sued Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson in federal court Tuesday, seeking to require extensive environmental review and public comment on two planned wind power projects along the Gulf Coast in Kenedy County.

The coalition, the Coastal Habitat Alliance, also sued over the wind project in state District Court in Travis County. That suit claims that the state’s Public Utility Commission illegally denied the alliance’s request to participate in permit hearings for the wind project’s transmission line.

The lawsuits threaten to delay or stop the two massive wind projects, which could place more than 600 turbines on 60,000 acres near Laguna Madre, south of Corpus Christi. Part of the wind projects would place about 250 turbines just east of a portion of the sprawling King Ranch.

The federal suit, filed in U.S. Western District Court in Austin, said the turbines could kill untold numbers of migratory birds and damage the bay. It seeks to overturn the decision by the Texas General Land office, which Patterson heads, to allow the projects to be built without environmental review or input from the public. The suit contends that the Federal Coastal Zone Management Act of 1972 and the Texas Coastal Management Program require a permit process for any energy generation facility on the coast, including wind farms.

Besides King Ranch Inc., the coastal alliance includes four Gulf Coast-area Aubudon societies and several local environmental organizations.

The land office said it doesn’t comment on pending litigation.

The federal suit also names the wind project developers: PPM Energy Inc., a Portland, Ore.-based subsidiary of Spanish utility Iberdrola SA; and Australian investment firm Babcock & Brown Ltd. PPM officials did not return a call for comment; Babcock & Brown could not be reached for comment.

Houston lawyer Jim Blackburn, the coastal alliance’s lead lawyer, said the federal coastal management act “mandates that Texas must conduct environmental assessments of all energy projects, including wind, in order to receive federal money.”

King Ranch backed unsuccessful legislation earlier this year that would have required the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to establish a permit process to take into account the environmental consequences of wind turbines.

By Robert Elder

Austin American-Statesman

5 December 2007