LUBBOCK – Cecil Martin is none too pleased at the prospect of losing part of his home in the Texas Panhandle to make way for billionaire T. Boone Pickens’ water and wind energy projects.
Depending on the precise location of the outer most marker of the easement being sought by Pickens’ projects, the 68-year-old Martin said, he’d have one less room in his Gray County home.
“They’ll either get the kitchen or the front porch,” he said. “Take your pick.”
Representatives of the oil and investment tycoon last month sent letters to about 1,100 landowners along a proposed 250-mile path through 11 Panhandle and Central Texas counties to tell them their “property may be affected” in obtaining rights of way for construction of an underground pipeline and aboveground electrical transmission lines, the letter stated.
The two delivery systems will allow Pickens to transport water from the Ogallala Aquifer – though he has no buyer yet – and deliver wind energy to “customers in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and potentially elsewhere,” the letter states.
Hardeman County landowner Kenneth Horton called Pickens – once was known as a corporate raider for takeovers of oil companies in the 1980s – a “natural resources raider.”
The last thing Horton wants to see when he gazes out over his thousands of acres – which include pioneer dugouts and American Indian sites – are power lines, he said.
“He’s going to hold everybody hostage,” said Horton, a banker in Quanah. “He’s going to do to the aquifer what he did to” oil companies in the 1980s.
But Pickens is forging ahead even before obtaining rights of way.
On Thursday, officials with Mesa Power, LP announced the company will buy 667 wind turbines from General Electric Co. It will build the first of four phases of the $12 billion project.
When completed the 2,700 turbine wind farm, will be capable of producing enough electricity to power 1.3 million homes and be the world’s largest.
Construction of the pipeline and transmission lines was expected to begin in 2009 under the auspices of the Roberts County Fresh Water Supply District No. 1 and Mesa Power. The only two residents living within the 8-acre water district – both Pickens’ employees – voted to approve its creation in November.
Pickens spokesman Jay Rosser said the goal is to minimize the impact the rights of way have on landowners.
Dealings with them will be open, honest and fair; engineers spent six months using aerial photographs to avoid homes, neighborhoods and businesses, said Rosser and Monty Humble, an attorney working for Pickens.
Also, engineers worked to match the proposed rights of way route to existing high-voltage transmission lines, and to abutt property lines and roadways, Rosser said.
“It has increased the cost of the project significantly, but it’s something we feel strongly about,” he said.
The letter also sought permission to survey from landowners whose “property lies along this preliminary route.” There was also information about informal open houses in various towns nearby the proposed route and two of five scheduled gatherings remain – in Jacksboro and Holliday – next week.
“This is just the first step in the process,” said Steve Zerangue, a spokesman for Pickens. “We are optimistic that we’ll get these folks signed up for the easement.”
If Pickens and the landowners can’t reach agreement on payments for rights of way, the water district, a governmental entity, can use eminent domain to sue landowners for condemnation of their property.
“The state of Texas has for over 100 years authorized the use of eminent domain to permit the common necessities of life, water, electricity, telephone service, oil and gas for use in the big cities,” said Humble, Pickens’ attorney.
Until last year, though, the wind project couldn’t not have been included in the process of obtaining rights of way.
Lawmakers in the last legislative session voted to allow renewable and clean-coal energy projects to piggyback obtaining rights of way with a district like the one Pickens formed last year to “construct, maintain, and operate transmission lines.”
State Sens. Bob Duncan (R-Lubbock) and Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo), whose districts the route runs through, will hold a town hall meeting in Childress on Friday to discuss the issue with landowners affected by the project.
Seliger said his office has been getting “lots of calls” from affected landowners.
“Eminent domain is hardly anything new but this was different in some respects,” Seliger said of the piggyback issue.
The legislation that enables the wind project to piggyback with Pickens water plan was a House amendment that was “brought in very, very late in the session,” and added to a statewide water bill, SB 3, Seliger said.
Often, he said, there are unintended consequences to legislation; he wants to revisit the amendment next session.
“That’s why we want to go talk to them,” Seliger said, referring to the landowners.
The Associated Press
16 May 2008
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