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DISD gets set for Oncor fight; School board votes to become an intervenor  

Credit:  By Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe and Britney Tabor / Staff Writers / Thursday, September 30, 2010 / dentonrc.com ~~

The Denton school district will join the chorus of residents and groups intervening on Oncor’s proposed 345-kilovolt power line running from Krum to Anna.

The school board voted unanimously Tuesday to intervene on the preferred route, which will cross district-owned property, including C.H. Collins Athletic Complex and Hodge Elementary School.

Board President Jim Alexander said that in the coming weeks district officials must consider the proper course of action in the fight.

“I think it’s pretty clear that the board is interested in what happens,” Alexander said.

Intervenor status allows a group or individual to participate in hearings, including the gathering and examination of evidence, as the Public Utility Commission of Texas chooses the final route.

The proposed line is part of a $4.93 billion project to increase the state’s capacity for wind-generated power to 18,456 megawatts per year. In March, the PUC began approving sets of lines to bring more wind power generated near Snyder and Sweetwater and in the Panhandle to the state’s more populous areas. The entire project is scheduled to be completed in 2013.

The project has met stiff opposition in some parts of Texas, including the Hill Country, where residents have questioned the need for some of the route segments.

Denton school district staff briefed trustees on how proposed routes for the transmission line could cross near Hodge Elementary and other district facilities and property along Long Road and FM428. Board members learned about alternative routes and the city of Denton’s resolution opposing the preferred route.

During a workshop discussion, Rod Reeves, the district’s coordinator of facilities, told trustees that the existing utility towers are 60 feet high and that the proposed towers would exceed 150 feet. Poles near C.H. Collins Athletic Complex, however, would remain at the current height, he said.

Some trustees and school officials indicated that, while in favor of alternative and environmentally friendly forms of energy, they are concerned with negative impacts of a new transmission line. Trustees also mentioned possible health effects.

Board member Charles Stafford, who is a real estate developer, expressed concern about the route’s effect on property values.

“It’s millions and millions and millions of dollars worth of valuation deterioration as it goes through our district, and it will hammer people’s property values. If it’s 15 stories tall, you’re going to see it from a long way off and it detracts,” he said. “We do have to consider what the effect on the total appraisal rolls would be and in tax dollars to this district, and that right there alone is enough reason to be an intervenor. We have a dog in the fight – big time.”

Other trustees questioned the value of the district’s involvement. Reeves said that, although the utility commission determines the final route, those who voice their opinions could make a difference.

During the meeting, members of the Greenbelt Alliance of Denton County urged trustees to intervene and oppose any routes through the Greenbelt Corridor as well.

“It was put there to be a natural area,” Ken Dickson said during an open forum. “I really want you to think about the value of the Greenbelt to our community and to our kids. The universities use the Greenbelt as research sites.

“Denton ISD uses it for its outdoor classrooms and connection of kids to nature.”

Most of the 90 individuals or groups that had filed to intervene in the utility commission hearings as of Wednesday afternoon were from Denton County.

The deadline to be an intervenor is Oct. 8.

The first public hearing on the transmission line route is set for 10 a.m. Tuesday, Oct. 12 at the Hyatt Regency, 208 Barton Springs Road in Austin. Many residents have said they will travel to Austin for the hearing. Others plan on monitoring the meeting on the Internet.

Some who have filed to intervene are living along the preferred route, which runs about 40 miles from Krum to Anna, crossing the Greenbelt Corridor between Ray Roberts and Lewisville lakes.

But many others are concerned about the alternate routes. Sanger filed the first motion to intervene, in an effort to protect city land it plans to develop into a sports complex. The Girl Scouts have filed to protect campsites in the area.

Commissioners Court members in Cooke County and Grayson County have filed resolutions in support of Oncor’s preferred route through Denton County.

Cooke County Judge John O. Roane said residents there are concerned that the utility commission would buckle to pressure over crossing the Greenbelt, even though the north side of Ray Roberts Lake has many riparian zones, woodlands and wildlife areas, too. Two Cooke County ranches with managed wildlife habitats also filed to intervene.

Routing the line north around the lake would add 60 to 70 miles to the segment, a cost that would be passed on to electric customers, Roane said.

Cooke County residents gave up 20,000 acres for Ray Roberts Lake without being able to use the water, and residents don’t want another big project taking valuable land, especially knowing that they won’t benefit from it, he said.

Roane also chafed at some comments by Denton-area landowners that seem to push fears over the worst problem onto others.

“Some of them complained about health risks [of living near high-voltage power lines],” Roane said.

Denton County residents along the alternate route segments also are leery of the push to protect the Greenbelt.

Residents along Duck Creek Road, west of Sanger city limits, have filed as a neighborhood association because an alternate segment would be routed around their neighborhood on three sides.

From the group’s vantage point, planners appear to be working with old maps and the route looks completely illogical, resident Marilyn Harris said. Many of the property owners have between two and five acres and giving up land for a power line could wipe them out.

“It’s a double-whammy throw on our neighborhood,” Harris said.

She is leading her neighborhood’s fight, but she finds the process stressful on herself and her marriage. Even though the couple is on an alternate route, she has a hard time looking out the window to watch the sunset and not imagining the power lines there.

“I want to think the best, but I have to face reality,” Harris said. “They [the power company and public officials] have no idea what it’s like to leave all this on the table for nine months of our lives in total limbo.”

Charles Kesseler, who runs Duck Creek Blackberry Farm across the street from Harris, said he isn’t directly affected by the proposed alternate route, but his farm, too, would be surrounded on three sides.

His daughter, son-in-law and their two young children live on the land with him. He’s not worried about his farm so much as the long-term impact on his family’s health.

“It’s the fear of the unknown,” Kesseler said.

He also bristles at the possibility that the preferred route could be abandoned because of the amount of money being spent by landowners and others trying to protect the area around the Greenbelt.

“I don’t know the PUCT and if they listen to money or to reason,” Kesseler said. “It’s a shame to have to say that, but it [the preferred route] is almost a direct shot from Krum to Anna. Otherwise it’s a huge horseshoe, and those transmission lines are expensive.”

PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881. Her e-mail address is pheinkel-wolfe@dentonrc.com .

BRITNEY TABOR can be reached at 940-566-6876. Her e-mail address is btabor@dentonrc.com .

Source:  By Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe and Britney Tabor / Staff Writers / Thursday, September 30, 2010 / dentonrc.com

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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