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Town wages artful opposition to power line

In an effort to thwart a proposed electric transmission line that will skirt their town, the people of the tiny town of Clifton, northwest of Waco, sketched out a novel argument Wednesday to the Public Utility Commission: The line would hamper the town’s ability to attract artists and inspire art.

Clifton considers itself an artists’ colony, and along with more prosaic arguments about property values and habitat fragmentation made against the line, which will bear wind power from West Texas to the central part of the state, residents and city officials said it would undercut artistic pursuits.

“We have worked very hard to use natural Hill Country beauty u2026 to develop our internationally recognized art community,” Fred Volcansek, the mayor of Clifton, told the commissioners Wednesday, explaining that vistas would be destroyed.

If a line were built skirting the city, as a pair of administrative law judges had recommended to the commissioners, “Why would these artists come?” Volcansek asked.

Behind him were at least 100 residents of the town, dressed in a debonair uniform of blue jeans, white shirts and red bandannas tied around their necks.

The commissioners appeared unconvinced by the argument.

“You have a fair number of lines converging on your city, yet you already have an artists’ community,” Chairman Barry Smitherman said as he examined a map of up-and-running lines through Clifton.

The utility commission has steadily been wading through the proposed routes of several dozen lines designed to bear wind-generated electricity from the remote western parts of the state to the population centers in the central part. The lines could be strung from tower to tower, as tall as 180 feet and perhaps a quarter-mile apart.

The lines are the consequence of a state mandate to raise the amount of power Texans get from renewable sources, but they have faced a backlash from property-owners along the proposed routes, especially in the Hill Country.

Volcansek, an enthusiastic ambassador for Clifton, was full of statistics: The city won the Shining Star Award from the state Department of Agriculture as the hardest-working rural community in Texas. It is a “certified retirement community,” he said.

According to the city’s Chamber of Commerce, it has twice been named one of the 100 best small art towns in America.

Volcansek told commissioners that the city has more artists per capita than any in the country, though he later could not substantiate that claim.

George Hallmark, an artist who specializes in paintings of missions and other scenes from old Mexico and the Southwest, said he called 35 artists to ask them to board a bus for the Public Utility Commission meeting.

Mike Irvin, a landscape artist who lives in the Clifton area, said the transmission lines would disrupt “the reference points” needed for landscape painting. “We’ll have to look in another direction or go elsewhere,” he said.

As it happens, European and American art has a rich history of work on the infiltration of industrial development into the countryside. Some imply progress, others environmental and economic ills.

In the 1855 painting “Lackwanna Valley ,” for example, the American painter George Inness includes a distant train chugging through rural Pennsylvania as a boy watches in the foreground. (The painting was commissioned by a railroad company.)

On the other hand, the “Bathers at Asnieres ,” an 1884 painting by Georges Seurat, shows near-phantasmagoric factories belching up smoke, lurking in the background of a riverside bathing scene.

At the end of the day, the commission was unmoved by the claims about art and landscape and decided to go with the administrative law judges’ recommendations.