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Hearing provides condemnation-process basics for transmission line project in Jones County

Landowners and a district judge in Jones County learned about the condemnation process as it relates to public use projects at a preliminary – but, for one landowner’s relative, emotional – hearing for Lone Star Transmission and five landowners at odds over the construction of power transmission lines.

The condemnation process is designed by lawmakers to provide adequate compensation for landowners affected by public use projects, like the Competitive Renewable Energy Zone transmission line projects pushed by state authorities as a way to effectively ship wind power to more densely populated areas.

Lone Star Transmission is one of 11 entities building CREZ transmission projects.

After getting routes approved by the Public Utility Commission of Texas, the company – a subsidiary of Florida-based NextEra Energy Inc. – is in the midst of negotiations with landowners over payment for easement and other property rights.

The five Jones County landowners in court Monday are among holdouts unwilling to accept offers made by Lone Star, leading the company to start the condemnation process.

Jones County District Judge Brooks Hagler ordered the hearing and peppered the attorney for Lone Star, Sue Ayers, with questions about the process.

Ayers said the process began after Lone Star made “final” offers to the landowners – but also stated that negotiations likely would continue, similar to other civil litigation that can be settled at the last minute.

If negotiations continue to stall, “special commissioners” – three Jones County landowners – would decide an award amount after hearing arguments from both sides.

Ayers also was asked by Hagler if other landowners might be brought into court for the condemnation process by Lone Star.

“I can anticipate that there may be other landowners,” Ayers said, but she stressed that the company was working in segments approximately 30-miles in length, with only five holdouts in a segment and others still in earlier stages of negotiations.

She described the process as time-sensitive.

Based on orders from the Public Utility Commission, “this entire line will be built and energized on March 2013,” Ayers said.

Clara Herrera, daughter of landowner Rebecca Herrera with power of attorney, gave an emotional speech.

“I will not belabor the emotional toll this has taken,” Herrera told the court, reading from prepared remarks.

Instead of talking about her family, she mostly criticized Chad Cowan for working for Lone Star while also holding the position of county attorney, adding that she had filed a formal complaint with the State Bar of Texas.

In an interview, Cowan said he has done nothing differently from other county attorneys as far as having a private practice based in his county office.

“I operate my office in the same manner it’s been for at least the last two attorneys,” Cowan said.