Billionaire T. Boone Pickens may face a tough crowd this week in North Texas.
Officials with Pickens’ company Mesa Power will be in two local cities to hold informational sessions about the company’s plans to build a water pipeline and electricity transmission lines from the Panhandle to the Dallas-Fort Worth area, cutting through several area counties.
Open house meetings with the company are scheduled for today in Jacksboro and Thursday in Holliday.
Archer County Judge Gary Beesinger said the main issue he’s heard about the Pickens’ proposal centers around the way Pickens planned his project and informed area residents about obtaining their rights of way.
Legislation passed last session by the Texas Legislature allows Pickens to obtain rights of way needed for the water and electricity projects through eminent domain.
“I think the biggest problem with this whole thing is when you throw out the words ‘eminent domain,’ especially in Texas, we get riled up,” Beesinger said. “People are like, ‘This is my land and you’re telling me what YOU want to do with it? Wait a minute. Let me go get my guns’. That’s just typical Texans.”
Beesinger said property owners seem to be most concerned with the way the project was designed without their knowledge or input.
“(Pickens) didn’t say, ‘Let’s go explore the issue with these people first,’ ” Beesinger said. “When you start throwing out those words (eminent domain), people are going to stand up and say, ‘Hey! Whoa! Wait a minute!’ That’s the way we as Texans and Americans are. We like to protect what’s ours.”
Pickens intends to construct a $12 billion wind farm project in the Panhandle to provide electricity to the Dallas-Forth Worth area. He also plans to transport water from the Ogallala Aquifer to yet-to-be determined urban customers.
Last month, about 1,100 property owners in 11 Panhandle and North Texas counties received letters informing them of the proposed 250-mile path that the water and electric lines would travel.
The proposed project travels south from the Panhandle and then cuts east across Hardeman and Wilbarger counties before taking a southeast turn through western Wichita County. The line would then go through the northeastern tip of Archer County before ending in central Jack County.
Marie Balthrop, Holliday city secretary, said her office had been flooded with calls from local residents who had received the letters. She expected many concerned citizens to show up at the Thursday meeting.
“I think there’ll be a big turnout,” she said. “People have been calling us and asking us questions. We really don’t have answers either. I got the same mail out they got.”
Balthrop said that, according to the information she has received, it appears that the proposed pipeline and transmission lines will cut right through town.
“The map I have, it comes right through and the people who are getting letters are right here in the city limits, so they are very concerned,” she said.
Jack County Judge Mitchell Davenport said he expects at least 100 county residents to show up at the meeting this evening in Jacksboro.
“People are interested from what they’ve read in the newspapers or what they’ve received in the mail,” he said.
Lawmakers across North Texas, including Sen. Craig Estes of Wichita Falls, organized a town hall style meeting last week in Childress to discuss the issue directly with the constituency.
Davenport did not attend the Childress event, but he said he expected a lot of the same discussion at the Jack County session.
“I think a lot of the things expressed there (Childress) will be the concerns of the people here in Jack County,” he said. “Of course, there may be a lot more questions than answers right now, and there may be a lot more questions than Mesa is ready to answer right now.”
Jody Withers, Estes’ communications director, stressed that the meetings tonight and Thursday, though, are being sponsored by Mesa Power and will not be in the same format as the one Estes helped sponsor.
Withers said the events in Jacksboro and Holliday are more of a come-and-go opportunity to get information from Mesa representatives, but there will not be a large question-and-answer session.
He thinks this format might annoy some local landowners.
“I think the constituency would like to see more town hall forums, not just an open house,” he said. “We would obviously encourage Mesa Power to present the case of why the right of way is needed for the fresh water supply and the electricity transmission. What is the benefit to our area and to the customers down stream?”
Withers said representatives from Estes’ office planned to attend both upcoming meetings.
“Right now, we are gathering facts and waiting to hear more from the constituents who are primarily affected by the right of way,” he said. “I think a lot of people are still gathering information on how it impacts them before they contact us to get the senator to act.”
Beesinger said his office hadn’t received any calls so far from concerned property owners, although he had heard talk in town about the project. He had no idea if the project will affect five landowners or 50 in Archer County yet.
“If (property owners) are concerned, they haven’t called us. They haven’t come to Commissioner’s Court,” he said. “Right now, I’m just playing the waiting game until someone comes in and asks us to get involved and I don’t even know if we could do something. We’re not sure if there’s anything we can do.”
Beesinger said many people will view the open houses as a too little, too late approach.
“I think the biggest thing (Mesa) has to overcome is the private landowners saying, ‘You didn’t even come and talk to me,’ ” Beesinger said. “(The company is saying), ‘Now, you can attend this meeting if you want to, but we’re going to do the project anyway.’ ”
By Lara K. Richards
21 May 2008
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