CHILDRESS – A controversial project pushing drinking water and green electricity from the Panhandle to the Metroplex drew few supporters from a crowd of more than 150 landowners in its path.
Residents living or owning property near the 250-mile route from Roberts County to west of Fort Worth peppered state legislators with questions and criticisms Friday morning.
“Those of you who would wish us to support this Mesa project, raise your hands,” Lubbock Republican Sen. Robert Duncan asked at one point, and watched every arm in the room slump.
Duncan and Amarillo Republican Sen. Kel Seliger called the meeting to discuss letters sent to landowners by wind energy company Mesa Power and the Roberts County Freshwater District explaining the project’s plans to purchase or condemn right of way near their property. Wichita Falls Republican Sen. Craig Estes and Reps. Delwin Jones, R-Lubbock, and David Swinford, R-Amarillo, also attended.
Residents and a handful of county officials complained that the water the company proposed to move should stay in the Panhandle, that the power lines they proposed to string should benefit more than one company and that the project seemed to have little public use.
“I don’t see how this government entity is helping anyone,” Gray County resident Stephen Martin said.
Legendary oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens owns Mesa Power and employs the board of the freshwater district. The company plans to use right of way secured by the water district to run pipelines, moving up to five times Lubbock’s annual water consumption from water rights held by Pickens and other landholders to Lake Bridgeport.
Mesa Power would run transmission lines to move thousands of megawatts of energy to the area from a massive wind project Pickens continues to develop. Joining the electrical project with a water district allows the project to compel the sale of land through eminent domain.
Project employees began contacting landowners in April with letters to 1,100 residents with property on or near the proposed route.
Though unusual, long-standing and recently amended state law allows the arrangement. Both Duncan and Seliger have suggested that could change in the next legislative session.
The residents and county officials appeared to try to balance their complaints about the Mesa project with regional desires to develop and sell wind power. Duncan called wind energy the region’s next economic frontier, and other attendees cautioned against railing too hard against transmission lines.
“I hope we don’t raise so much issue of the power line issue that we kill something that will benefit everybody,” Wellington resident Ray Floyd said.
Mesa Power consultant Ron Harris asked the crowd at the end of the meeting to give company land men a chance to make an offer before opposing the project.
“Mesa is not here to steal your land,” Harris said.
Pickens spokesman Jay Rosser said after the meeting the project represented a massive investment in the region that should benefit everyone.
The project was not doing anything unusual, he said.
“This system is nothing new,” Rosser said. “That a private company has eminent domain power is nothing new.”
By Elliott Blackburn
17 May 2008